ScoMo Getting people back into jobs, getting our economy moving again

Welcome back, colleagues, in this rather unusual setting but it's good for us to get together in a COVID safe way. We're back at work - we've never not been at work over these many months - we have been hard at work, but here we are, back today and in Canberra for the sittings today. Getting people back into their workplace and back into jobs, getting our economy moving again. That's our task.

In the last four months, we've been fighting this virus and we've been doing it with some success, particularly when you look at it internationally. And over the course of this period, we have been following a very clear plan. It is our response to the COVID crisis that has enveloped the world. Step one of that way has always been to fight the virus. And we are winning, but we have not yet won. That virus is still out there, that virus still has a great potential to do enormous harm to the livelihoods of Australians and the lives of Australians. We need to continue to fight that battle and I want to commend Greg Hunt on the tremendous job that he has done in leading that health response.

Step two of that plan has to extend an economic lifeline to Australians throughout the course of this crisis. JobKeeper, JobSeeker, the cash flow lifeline to small businesses. The additional payments that are going to pensioners and to others on welfare benefits and will happen again in July. Making sure that we understand during this emergency time we have emergency responses. That is entirely appropriate. And our Government did not shrink from that, our Government responded to that in an effective and well-planned and well-considered way, consistent with the principles that we set out in early March. That we don’t commit Australians across the generations to high levels of spending into the future, that we do it with the time that is necessary to give the support that is necessary to help Australians through this crisis. And that's what we've done. And to you, Josh, and the entire economic team and Mathias and others, it has been a very effective program, brought together in record time. 

The JobSeeker program has seen more than a million people, sadly, have to seek that support through the JobSeeker payments and the work that Stuart Robert has done through Services  Australia and the amazing work with the public service who have been part of that team. More than 5,000 additional people we had to bring and brought them into Services Australia to process the claims of more than a million Australians so they can get the help they need and that's been an extraordinary piece of work to extend that economic lifeline, where it is needed, to ensure that Australians can move forward with confidence.

You know, from the day that JobSeeker and JobKeeper, I should say, together were announced, confidence surveys show that we've already covered some 70 per cent of the ground by having a plan, by having the commitment, by having the follow through. And most importantly, for delivering on the ground. That is so important. We can have policies, we can have all of these things. But it's the delivery on the ground that has been demonstrated, whether it's in processing more than a million claims, five and a half million people coming onto JobKeeper, thousands, tens of thousands of small businesses that have been given that cash flow lifeline that enables them to get and see the road ahead for themselves.

So I have great faith, as we all do, in the optimism of Australians and in their resourcefulness and in their tenacity and their determination. And they can work within that framework and they can work within that plan and that's why the third step of the plan which I announced last Friday was that road back. Those three steps, working together with the states and territories in a way that we have never seen in our Federation through the National Cabinet. I thank the premiers and chief ministers for the work that they have done, working together as part of a genuine national effort, and we have led that effort as a Government. We've mapped out the road back to a COVID safe economy.

So Australians can go back to the workplaces, so children can be back in school. Both of my daughters are back in school today, in the classroom, in New South Wales. That road back is giving Australians hope. It’s giving them confidence. They can see down the road and they can see how we can get to that next stage.

But we cannot be complacent. States and territories are each pacing out this road back and that's appropriate, because the circumstances of our great country and its broad reaches are very different. From Warren up in North Queensland to our friends in Tasmania, right across in the West where they're well ahead down this plan. It's a big country and it means the responses will be different across the country. But they're all heading in the same direction and that's what the national effort has done.

But as we reopen, which is that third stage, we now must work to build confidence and to build momentum. We cannot be complacent. While we very much look to the future as Australians are, as a Government we must remain absolutely focused on the right here, right now, needs of Australians. Australians are hurting now. Their businesses are still not open now. They’re still not back to their full time employment arrangements that they long to be back into. Not all of the kids are back in school. There's still a long way to go, and so we can't be distracted. By things that are further down the road because Australians need our help now, and we need to focus on their needs now, right here, right now, and that's what we'll be doing in this parliament this very week. 

But that fourth phase is about building that momentum. It's about building that confidence, confidence figures are out today, as I said, a 70 per cent rebound. Despite the difficult circumstances, the country is still moving. But we can't be complacent. As Australians go back out and re-engage in their workplaces and their communities as kids go back to playgrounds, and surfers get back on the waves and golfers get back on the course. And thankfully, the NRL returns to the field, and the AFL too I'm sure, and the netball. 

But we cannot be complacent that the virus is beaten as I’m sure Greg will tell us, the virus is still out there. It is still there to wreak havoc, to cause terrible illness, particularly to our most vulnerable Australians and deny Australians’ their livelihoods.

And so that's why the COVIDSafe app is so important, because that is part of the protection that Australians have as we venture back out. We can open back up, not because the virus is defeated, we can open up, because of the tremendous work is being done in our health system to build up the ICU’s, to get the ventilators in place, to build up our testing regime, to get the COVIDSafe app so we can industrialize the tracing of cases and isolate those who will contract the virus as the economy opens up again. And then we can respond to individual outbreaks, whether they're in a nursing home, and I congratulate you, Melissa, for the great work you've done out there in the community of Penrith with the Newmarch, it’s been a terrible, terrible, a terrible incident. And Richard, to you and all that time in the department, have done a great job in responding to these outbreaks. And they will happen, but we will respond.

And that is where our focus will be in the many months ahead, weeks and months of getting the momentum back into our country. And that's where we must support all Australians in our electorates across the country, encouraging them, spurring them on. We've got the frameworks right, we've got the policy settings right. And we know they will get it right, if we continue encouraging them and showing the way forward. And of course, we will need to reset our economic policies and other policy frameworks to ensure that Australia grows itself out of this crisis.

The answer is not spending more or spending forever. The answer is that Australian businesses small, micro, medium, large will rebuild, will re-employ, will restart and engage in this COVID safe economy and do what they’ve always done. Theirs are the shoulders that Australians will stand on, those businesses that will provide the employment and provide the opportunities.

Governments can support that. But at the end of the day, it’s that economy. You know, governments, we have no money of our own. The only money we have is what is provided to us by the Australian people and the hard work of Australian people and the success of Australian businesses. And that is our road map to recovery. That is our road ahead. By spurring those businesses on to ensure that they can provide the livelihoods that Australians desire on the other side of this crisis.

So jobs, guaranteeing the essential services that Australians rely on, keeping Australians safe, looking after this amazing country that we have the responsibility to look after. That can only be done as we know, by ensuring that we rebuild our economy on the other side of this crisis and that between now and that point, we stand with Australians, giving them the support they need to ensure that they can put themselves in that position on the other side.

Now, from this point, during the course of this week, we'll obviously deal with the legislation that's coming before the parliament. And there are many Australians, I think, we need to thank, but one group in particular I want to thank, as I have spoken with leaders around the world and we've compared notes on how we're dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, and Australia stacks up pretty well. One of the groups in our community here in Australia that was so important early on was the Chinese-Australian community. They have been instrumental. That first wave that would have come, the responsibility, discipline, the support for each other, demonstrated by the Chinese-Australian community when the border restrictions were put in place, one of the first places in the world to do that, and the cooperation, the willing, enthusiastic, patriotic cooperation we had with the Chinese-Australians here was magnificent. And we owe them a great debt as a nation. And I want to thank them for that. Because they set the mark for the rest of us to follow, which we all now have. And that means that Australia is in a better position than almost any other country in the world to deal with this crisis. So a big shout out to all of our community, those amazing Australians that join us here each year in Australia who dealt the first blow of this virus as it came in Australia.

So with that, I’m going to hand over to the DPM, and it's great to have you all back here, the many times by telepresence and remotely over past months. It is good to have us back here in a COVID safe environment as so many other workplaces and schools and other organisations all around the country are doing this every day. This is the road back, we're on it. Thank you all very much.

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