Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements
Minister Tudge: We’ve got community leaders from right across our great nation and some very familiar faces there as well. I think I’ve come across nearly every single one of you this year. It’s particularly great obviously to have our Prime Minister here on this particular conference, as well as Assistant Minister Jason Wood. I can see Sev Ozdowski right in front of me here as well, who is the chairman of our Australian Multicultural Council, so a particular welcome to him and all the other community leaders across our country.
I’ll only speak for two or three minutes and then hand it over to the Prime Minister, but I just wanted to say a few things up front. Once again, to just say a very big thank you for all of the leadership which you have shown during these tough times throughout the COVID period this year. A particular call out to those Victorian leaders who I think have really had to go beyond the call of duty in the last few months, and that continues on. Thank you for working so closely with us, for helping get that information out there, including some of the translated materials. And ensuring that community members within your community understand not only what some of the restrictions are but equally what the programs that have been put in place that people can access – whether they be small business, whether they be mental health support or other support that people are able to access. A very big thank you in relation to that.
Today’s session is really part of our ongoing engagement with you. As you are probably aware, we have really ramped up our engagement with the multicultural leaders this year during the pandemic. I’ve led a lot of those, but equally through our regional directors and our community liaison officers we’ve had over 8,000 engagements with different community leaders and different communities this year, which is a fivefold increase in what it was last year. This engagement and particularly these forums are a terrific way for us to be able to hear directly from you and understand some of the things, which are on your mind as well as an opportunity for us to impart some of the policy changes which we have made.
I can tell you that some of the feedback we’ve had from these forums has directly led to the policy changes which we have made. In particular, I reflect on a few things which I have put in place following the forums that I’ve held. Such as putting religious leaders, for example, on the exemption list at the border so that they can come in more readily, because they’ve been so important during the pandemic. Such as addressing some of the visa application charge issues which we can discuss further. Also in terms of really getting going on this anti-racism campaign, which many of you have raised directly with me as well, which I think has been quite effective in terms of how we’ve done that. Thank you for that engagement and that will be ongoing – with the Prime Minister today obviously being the most important one.
I’ll just finish by mentioning three important policy changes in my portfolio which are directly relevant, I think, to multicultural leaders and through you to your communities. And then I think the PM is going to touch, obviously more broadly on the Budget and our economic recovery and the like.
First up, I just want to mention the partner visa changes. Specifically, that we have almost doubled the number of partner permanent residency visas available for this financial year – up to 73,000 (77,000 family visas). That’s a really important move and it means some of those backlogs that we have had, we’ll be able to address this year. And that provides stability and certainty for those partners of Australians or permanent residents. That’s the first one.
The second one I want to briefly mention, and no doubt this will come up in the Q&A as well, is the changes we’ve made to our English language programs. We have removed almost every restriction on migrants being able to access free English language classes. So that means from now anybody at any stage, no matter how long you have been in the country can get as many free English language classes as they need to get themselves up to a functional level of English. That’s a really significant change and hopefully through you, you’ll encourage those people whose English might not be up to speed to take advantage of some of those free English language classes -even if they’ve been in the country for ten years. Related to that is, we’ve put an expectation upon the partner visa applicants that they’ll at least make a reasonable effort to take advantage of those free English language classes. No hard and fast test, but a reasonable effort we want to see. And I don’t think that’s an unreasonable policy.
Finally, just briefly, and this gets raised with me frequently and the PM may say more about this in relation to our borders and our ongoing migration program. Obviously we closed the borders in March and we’ve been slowly re-opening them again since. But it means our migration program overall will be completely diminished this year and next, before we expect it to ramp back up to close to normal in year three or four. That, I know, is tough for some of your community members who either may not be able to travel to see their loved ones or their loved ones may not be able to come here. We acknowledge that, we’re working on that, there’s further developments almost every day. I just want to sort of, I suppose, reassure you that we are very conscious of this and that we will get back to normal at some stage I think and be back to this great immigrant country that we are so well known for around the world.
So let me just finish on that point and now introduce the Prime Minister – the main guest today – to say a few words. Then I think we’re going to have some questions and answers for the rest of the session. Over to you PM.
Prime Minister: Well, thank you Alan, and to Woody as well as he’s affectionately known amongst his colleagues and I’m sure that many, if not all of you as well. Can I start particularly by just acknowledging the Ngunnawal people here where I am in Canberra. It’s a different [inaudible] where you may be, but where I am is in Ngunnawal today, and I acknowledge their elders past, present and future. And any veterans with us, Defence Force personnel as well, reservists and so on, thank you for the amazing work you do for our country.
Alan, can I thank you and Woody as well. And particularly you, Alan, you’ve taken on a very big load this year. I know many of you also would know David Coleman and he was doing a fantastic job before circumstances meant that he had to stand aside for personal reasons this year. And Alan, you’ve taken on an enormous load in this area, but I’ve always known it’s been an area you’ve had great passion for, and you’ve really acquitted yourself so well on the relationships and the application you’ve had in this very important portfolio, which, you know is very dear to my heart as a former portfolio I once held for quite a period of time, both in opposition and government. So I want to thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made to be able to basically do two very big jobs this year, and I’m sure that those on the call will have noticed the passion with which you engage in that. And for Woody, that’s always the case. He’s passion with a capital P, particularly when it comes to this topic and whether it’s in his own community or elsewhere. Since taking on this role, Woody, you’ve just been fantastic. So thank you very much for the work that you’ve done.
I want to echo Alan’s thanks to all of you for your leadership in all of the various communities you represent across Australia. To you Sev as well, a real veteran of this space and I see many other veterans who I’ve known for many years on this call, and thank all of you for your leadership. As we go through what has been one of the toughest, if not the most toughest year that most Australians have gone through in living memory. That has particularly been the case, I think, for the many different communities you represent across Australia.
This year has required a leadership that has been needed across our communities to give people hope, to give people direction, to give people confidence in a time where there’s a lot of uncertainty and there are a lot of unanswered questions. In times like that, people, they do look to their leaders and they’ve been looking to you for that guidance and that direction. And so I want to thank you for how you’ve been able to do that, and I want to thank you for the way that you’ve been connecting, not just with us as a federal government and our ministers, but I also want to thank you for the way you’ve connected with your state and territory leaders. I just might ask our technical guys here. I’m not getting the vision here on the screen.
Today, after this, I’ll be meeting with the National Cabinet. And it is a regular topic of our conversation about how we’re engaging, particularly in a communications sense, with the many different communities across Australia. And particularly when it comes to public health, mental health support and economic engagement and participation, workplace safety, using public transport, all of the most obvious and basic things about our everyday life in a COVID-19 pandemic. These relationships we’ve probably had to call on and draw on more than ever before. I’ve got to tell you, it’s been an enormous success. It really has. I’m incredibly proud of the way that Australia’s multiple communities have actually worked together in a very focused way, in a very practical way. It goes back to earlier this year when we were really only coming to terms with what this pandemic was, in late January, and we closed the borders in the first of February. And we had many returning Australians from all around the world at that time, particularly out of China initially. That was not a time when we were running hotel quarantine. We were running home quarantine, in isolation. The discipline shown, particularly in our Chinese-Australian community in those first few weeks was amazing. It was exemplary, and actually set the tone, I think, for the broader Australian response that has followed in these many months since then.
So I’m only full of appreciation for the leadership of communities that has enabled us as a country to do better, both on the economics and on the health than almost any other country in the world. So pat yourselves on the back because you’ve played a huge role in that. As Alan said, in Victoria, that strain and that challenge has been just so much greater in these recent months and the stresses and strains are there, have been very difficult to cope with, but you’ve been sustaining your communities and I want to thank you for that. And hopefully we’ll be making further progress there soon and some form of normal life can resume. On that front, I think it will be important as we go forward that the messaging continues. And messaging is just not one way. Messaging is also us receiving messages from communities and understanding what the difficulties are or constraints might be in putting public health practices in place or getting economic participation or COVID-safe practices and everything, as I say, from public transport, to what happens on the shop floor, or in the community hall or whatever.
The other thing I’m sure we’re all looking forward to is, the COVID-19 experience this year means that on so many occasions the community or activities that would normally take place with great enjoyment and great community bonding, sadly, have not been able to take place. And that would have just been so incredibly hard. The combination of religious/cultural/community events, and they merge each into the other and they’re so much part of the heart of community life. It’s sad that we haven’t been able to have those this year. I believe that would have left a big hole, a big vacuum, I think, in communities all around the country. They usually bring to knit people together and to give people reassurance and fellowship. That would have been hard.
That said, the COVID-19 year, the very platform we’re meeting on today has probably seen a greater engagement amongst leadership and with government than perhaps we’ve seen before, and that is a good thing. I hope Alan and the many leaders that are on the call today, Woody, that this will be something – and Alice I also want to thank you for your work in this and Home Affairs as well. I hope this is something we can continue, because we all have very busy lives, pre or during or post-COVID. But let’s not, as it says, forsake the meeting together like we are in this forum, because I think that is a positive development out of COVID that I think better connects leadership of communities.
I’ve always been, as you know, a keen advocate and supporter of Australia’s immigration program, and there are many reasons for that. It defines us, who we are as a country. We are the most successful immigration country in the world. That’s not debatable. It’s a fact and daylight second. We show the rest of the world how to do this. Doesn’t say it’s perfect, but no one comes close to us when it comes to how we live together as a society here in Australia. The fact that we get so frustrated sometimes by our failures, I think only underscores how high our expectations are of Australia as a multicultural society. And that’s a good thing. Let that ever be the case, that we won’t settle for second best or third best on these things. We want to continue to be the best in the world when it comes to how we engage. I think what underpins that is an appreciation of what the migration program, firstly, contributes to the country, and that is undisputable. It’s one of the key pillars of our societal strength, but also of our economic success as a country and that must continue. COVID has really hit that hard. Borders, while about 60-odd, 65-odd thousand Australians have left over the course of COVID and travelled overseas, three times that have actually come back and come to Australia over that period of time for various reasons. I mean, it hasn’t been a completely closed border, it’s been a highly managed border, but that is obviously a fraction of what we normally experience. We need to get back. We need to get back to Australia being open and people being able to come. But it obviously has to be done safely and at a time when our systems can support it, and pre-vaccine and post-vaccine that will be made that bit easier.
But the other part of it, I think is it’s just not about population. It’s about participation and connection, and that’s where I think our efforts must continue. Now on participation, I just want to talk briefly about economic participation. Australia’s economy is recovering. It’s not will recover, it already is recovering and it is recognised as recovering. Victoria will catch up to that. And I think you will catch up very quickly once we can get Victoria open, and I think Victoria will move. One of the things we’ve done as a government is try and preserve the fabric of our economy over the course of the COVID-19 recession, to keep businesses together, to keep training in place, to keep skills current, to keep trade connections in place, to preserve supply chains, to do all of this. That’s been done through JobKeeper, and JobSeeker, and training initiatives and cash flow support. All of this has been about investments to keep the fabric of our economy woven and not ripped apart. And so we avoid the potential scarring of our economy that could lead to a generation of disadvantage, of non-participation, of economic exclusion. Some of the groups that are most susceptible to that are obviously young people, and that’s why our budget is focused on young people. Women, which is why our budget is focused so much in that area as well. But also the many different ethnic communities of the country, some of which can be more disadvantaged than others. We need to work harder on continuing to engage that participation.
As we know, businesses, ethnic businesses are the most entrepreneurial in the country. The rate of entrepreneurialism amongst the many migrant communities in Australia is higher than it is for the otherwise national average. And so supporting business has very much been a multicultural policy in Australia, because so much of the multicultural community’s economic progress and wellbeing is subject to the success of the small and medium sized business environment. I see the two is as uniquely connected in the way we’re responding to the crisis.
That’s why this year’s budget is focused on the job hiring initiatives, the investment allowances, loss carry backs – all of this designed not just to preserve the fabric of our businesses and our economy, but to see it recover, to take back what was lost. Then in the third component of our budget, it is to build our success for the future. Now, whether that be in our advanced manufacturing sector and technology and research, or in our services sector, the continued expansion of our social services in a private and not-for-profit perspective, whether that be in aged care or community services, all of which so many communities are directly involved in. Building for the future with the skills and capabilities and investments that are needed to underpin our economy will see Australia emerge from this crisis, I would say, amongst a handful of countries – just a couple, literally, just a couple – which will see Australia come out on the top of the pack.
Now, one other initiative – I’ll close on this, Alan, and then we can take some questions. We initiated a little while ago, I call it Project Money Ball. It has a more formal name and the officials and others can refer to it by that if they wish. What it involves is, we’ve set up a team and I’ve appointed a special envoy on my behalf – his name is Peter Verwer. He’s leading a team, under Alan’s direction as Minister, that is going around the world and basically, targeting companies, leading academics, researchers, scientists and others from around the world and saying come to Australia; come and establish your businesses here.
The COVID experience, I think, has demonstrated to many around the world and whether there are, you know, real challenges in places like Hong Kong and so on. And we’re saying come to Australia, establish your business here. One of the reasons we could that is because of the rich multicultural history and presence that Australia has today.
That is an exciting project and I’m sure, no doubt, Alan, that we’ll be reaching out the community leaders to assist. You know, if we have a company that’s decided to rebase itself from Singapore to Australia, or from Thailand to Australia, or from the UK or from the United States, wherever they happen to be, or from Lebanon – it doesn’t matter where. They will be able to come into Australia and form part of a community that is present and can be supportive and can drive that participation.
So look, I could go on about this, as some of you know, at length. I already have and for that, I apologise. But it is an area, as I’m sure many of you know me well know it’s a great area of passion for me, this. It is part of, I think, Australia’s greatest boast and as Prime Minister, I want to ensure that it remains one of our greatest boasts as a country; that we are the most successful multicultural and immigration nation on the planet. Alan.
Minister Tudge: Thank you very much, PM and very well said. In fact, one of the great illustrations of that last point which you’ve just said, is the phenomenal work which so many of the communities did during the bushfires and indeed during COVID, in terms of raising money, cooking meals, the Buddhist monks providing massages for the weary firefighters and the like. I think that was such a great example of our multicultural country at work and we’ll sure be very proud of that.
Now, Alice, I think you’re going to moderate the questions and look after the technology to let people in and out. I’ll hand it over to you and I presume some of the questions will come to me, but most will come to the PM.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Minister. Yes, the first question for today is for the Prime Minister. It comes from Dr Yadu Singh who we can see on screen. Dr Singh.
Prime Minister: We don’t have the audio from Dr Singh.
Question: Can you hear me now?
Department of Home Affairs Host: Yes, Dr Singh. Please go ahead.
Question: Good morning, Prime Minister. Thank you very much for your great leadership. You really, really have been a great Prime Minister. My question to you is: what is the latest about the COVID-19 vaccine for Australians and when are we, Australians, likely to get it? Prime Minister. Thank you.
Prime Minister: Well thank you, Dr Singh. And again, thank you for your leadership in the Indian community across Australia. Last week, I was up in the University of Queensland and was able to meet with the researchers that are leading the development of the vaccine there – the molecular clamp vaccine. I asked them a very important question which was the first time I’ve actually got an answer to this question that actually satisfied me. I asked the lead researcher: why is it that the world has never been successful in finding a vaccine for a coronavirus? Now, my assumption had been that there was some unique scientific challenge here that made this totally inscrutable and that’s not the case, thankfully. What has occurred in the past is that coronaviruses have peaked and passed long before the urgency of a need for a vaccine. So it never sort of sustained long enough to sustain the investment and focus for a vaccine to be developed in those areas. So there isn’t necessarily a greater scientific challenge to finding this vaccine. The former chief medical officer and now Secretary of Health, Brendan Murphy, sort of explained it to me like this: just the sheer volume of investments and the research that is going into finding this vaccine, you play the percentages and you’ve got to be optimistic because of just what’s involved here.
What I also learned up at UQ was: they are coming at it from different angles. I mean, the work that the Oxford University is doing and the way they’re tackling it, I think with what’s called a protein spike or something; and then you’ve got the molecular clamp, which is another type of process; and then you have a sort of a mirrored virus, which I think is what the Chinese are doing; and then you’ve got a genetic approach, I think it is, that the Americans are doing, which is at a whole another level.
The science that is going into this is quite amazing. And so that gives me a lot of confidence that one will be found. It could be that final stage trials on the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine could be successful by the end of the year. Could be. I think ours will be a bit after that from what we’re seeing at the moment. But these things do have a habit of accelerating if the results prove positive.
Now, the challenge then is not just how, if someone cracks it, [inaudible] the rest of the world’s leaders to commit that if any country finds it, they share it. And I’ve had a lot of good responses to that.
The next point is that you’ve got to manufacture it. You’ve got to distribute it. That’s why we’ve entered into a domestic sovereign manufacturing arrangement with CSL here in Australia, which will enable us, through a $1.7 billion investment, to get the doses of both an AstraZeneca and a UQ vaccine available to every single Australian.
Now, that production timetable, you know, if you’ve got successful trials towards the end of this year, early next year, then you’re probably talking about now next year by the time you’ve ramped up production and distribution and immunisation moving through the community. So it’s not just finding the vaccine, it’s manufacturing it and then disseminating it and applying it. And so, there’s a good, I think, from start to finish around about a year potentially in that. If it happens sooner than that, then great.
The other point I wanted to make about the vaccine is, we’ve made a commitment to support all our Pacific island communities as well with the same level of support. I think we may be able to also assist South East Asian countries in a more targeted way as well.
Another thing that I’m pushing very hard for on an international level and getting good support from this, including out of India, is we can’t allow the developing world to have some sort of second-best vaccine or become guinea pigs when it comes to a vaccine. I find that morally reprehensible personally.
A vaccine that you get in Australia should be a vaccine you get in Africa or Papua New Guinea or Malaysia or Indonesia, Vietnam, China, wherever. There shouldn’t be one vaccine for the developing world, which is of, you know, lower testing standards and lower medical veracity for the sake of just reaching volume. I think we have to commit to ensuring that all the world’s population get access to the same quality of vaccine. And that’s something that we will be pushing very hard through the multilateral forum.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Minister Tudge, the next question is for you and comes from Dr Philip Ahn, who I think we have joining us by phone.
Question: Hello. Can you hear me?
Department of Home Affairs Host: Yes. We can. Thank you very much, Dr Ahn.
Question: My question to the Minister Alan Tudge is regarding the partner visa and then the two criteria – I’m going to ask you the definition of your criteria and the process of testing the English language. Do you know that the group of the partner visa applicant, they are coming over in many cases with a partner already established in Australia to start a family and establish home? This set an unprecedented stress for the new applicants if the criteria for passing is unknown or beyond their capabilities. [Inaudible]… within a relatively short time limit of two years. Therefore, we would appreciate have the discussion on this criteria.
Minister Tudge: Yeah, thanks Phillip for that question. And it’s important to- I suppose, let me just explain briefly who it applies to, and what the standard is that we’re seeking.
First up, if you’re coming in, say, on skilled visa, your partner comes in as a secondary applicant, and there’s no English language tests associated with that, or with any of the other secondary applicants attached to the other visas. What we’re, here we’re talking when an Australian citizen or a permanent resident in Australia falls in love with foreigner, and that foreigner then subsequently applies for a partner permanent residency visa. And what will happen is, that person will come into the country, as they do, and they’ll typically be here for two to three years on a provisional visa before they’re eligible for their permanent residency visa.
In that time, Philip, we are asking people to make a reasonable effort to learn English, if you don’t already have a functional level of English. Now, by what we mean by reasonable effort to learn English, we’ll define those over the weeks ahead. But, broadly speaking, it might be for a person who is an ordinary person, ordinary, capable person, it might be doing 500 hours of the freely available English language classes in Australia. That would be considered a reasonable effort, but of course, there’ll be exemptions for that if you’ve got a disability or the like. Now, of course, if you’ve already got a functional level of English, you don’t have to worry about that. What we’re trying to achieve for everybody to have a basic level of English so that we can converse with one another, maintain our social cohesion, but equally importantly, Philip, is so that they’ve got the best chance of getting a job and fully participate … have English, the chances of you getting work are very, very small. In fact, only 13 per cent of people in Australia today with no English are in a job, only 13 per cent. And that’s because it’s, the labour market is very different to what it was – I remember in the 50s and 60s when people did come in with no English and went straight into work. Because today, the occupational health and safety rules mean you need to have at least a basic level of English to be able to participate, and of course you can’t participate in all aspects of Australian life fully without a reasonable command of English. So, that’s the intent of the policy. There’s no hard and fast test at all, and I want to make that clear. There’s no hard and fast test at all. There is simply a request and a requirement that those partner applicants make a reasonable effort to learn English in those two or three years that they are already in Australia, before they get their final permanent residency.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Minister. Prime Minister, the next question is for you and comes from Belle Lim, from the Council of International Students Australia. Please go ahead Ms Lim.
Question: Thank you. Thank you Prime Minister, Minister Tudge, and Minister Wood for your time today. My question is that as the largest service industry, service export industry that has been severely impacted, what is the Morrison Government’s strategy to ensure the recovery of Australia’s international education sector? And may I just say that as student leaders, CISA would like to offer our help in this.
Prime Minister: Well, thank you very much, I appreciate your question, Belle. My plan is to get the students back, and to get them back for next year, and to work with the states and territories, the universities sector to achieve that as best as we possibly can for next year. As Alan knows, we’re working on that quite hard at the moment. We’ve got two pilots running now in the Northern Territory and South Australia, I know New South Wales is also very keen to move ahead in this area. We have to, sort of, balance community confidence with that plan but at the same time, it is not beyond our wit at all to do this safely. It may just take longer for people to get back to Australia and to be in a position to start their study again next year, but I think we’ve got the time to achieve that as much as we possibly can.
When it hit us at the start of this year, it obviously had a terrible impact, because, I mean, to be fair, at the start of the pandemic, the level of knowledge about how the virus worked and how the quarantine arrangements and how they functioned, and all of that, it was very early days and it was very unsafe to just bring everybody back and go ahead on that basis. That could have had diabolical outcomes, the like of which we’ve seen, particularly over in Europe and other parts of the world. But we’ve got enough time, I think, to plan and to do as much of this by the start of next year as possible. And so, we’re certainly doing that, and we’re looking forward to working with yourselves, but particularly the universities. And we will have to look at innovative ways about how quarantine can be done. It may well be the case that students may get to come early and be backpackers for a while, before they go back to university, and perhaps spend a bit more time in Australia and see a lot more of Australia.
We’ve got a lot of fruit to pick, I know that much, and that’s another problem we’ve got, actually. And Alan and I are working on that problem right now as well, and sometimes you can solve two problems with the same solution. And so, we are thinking laterally about this, and so we would like to work with you on that to see how we can get people back, perhaps sooner, and then you can do it on a more orderly basis, make best use of the quarantine facilities that we have. I mentioned before, the tremendous discipline and application that existed especially in the Chinese-Australian community with the returning Australian residents early on. So for many of our students who’d be coming back from parts of the world they already have a very good appreciation of the health issues here and I really don’t think they will be careless about this. And so, and I think universities equally understand the economic importance of it.
Look, the short answer is the plan is to get people back, and as soon as we can and to do it in a safe way and in an orderly way. And that may involve people being here for longer, it may require us, as Alan knows, looking innovatively, flexibly at some of the conditions around those visas for students who are returning to Australia early, and to enable them to maybe do a bit more while they’re here before their studies start again. So, COVID-19 requires us all to be innovative, and that includes officials at the Department of Home Affairs in terms of how we structure visas and how we, and how we work the conditions of those.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. The next question is for Minister Wood and comes from Dr Rateb Jneid, who I think I can see online, from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. Please go ahead, Dr Jneid.
Question: Firstly, on behalf of the Federation of Islamic Council, I would like to thank you Prime Minister and thank Ministers Alan Tudge and Jason Wood for taking the time to talk to us. Australia is enriched by its diversity [inaudible]…powerful message to hear significant ministers to sit with us on Friday morning. It would be great it would be have more time, maybe in the near future we can. The question is, will the department be funding programs that will help combat xenophobia and Islamophobia?
Assistant Minister Wood: Thanks very much Doctor. Good morning, friends and it’s absolutely fantastic to be with you here this morning. Thanks Alan Tudge. First of all, can I say, it comes down to leadership, and you haven’t got a better leader when it comes to the understanding of multicultural issues and respect and having a zero tolerance approach when it comes to our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. And we’ve all seen this first hand, he went out in my electorate, and he was demonstrating which I thought was a big call for the Indians how to make a curry. And this is something which shows how fantastic and great our country is when you’ve got a Prime Minister who can go out there and demonstrate and respect the cultures of other countries.
And I know [inaudible] challenge, Prime Minister, at this weekend they’ll be looking to you for another curry. Can I say, too, it also comes to the multicultural- [inaudible].
Prime Minister: Happy to get some tips later.
Assistant Minister Wood: [Inaudible] very much. Well, in actual fact, this is fantastic, because my Indian community was actually asking for the recipe, which is really nice. And can I say from the multicultural community, when it comes to sport and the great work you do and I look at this when it comes to the Indians the Sri Lankans for cricket and also when it comes to Aussie rules football. And can I say, Bachar Houli and he’s playing for the Tigers tomorrow night, as a Richmond supporter, I’m so excited. The leadership role he has played has been absolutely incredible and has had a very strong government support. When it comes to specific programs, we have the Muster Grants, the understanding social tolerance and respect programs and Alan Tudge was right behind the Racism Is Not Acceptable campaign. Very much targeted at COVID era and to ensure we don’t have actually racism in there. This budget again, $62 million social cohesion a major focus, community liaison officers. And can I say it’s so important to get all our multicultural communities together and in actual fact 50 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or one of their parents works like my wife Judy, and we have a little one who on the weekend, Jasmine, who learns Mandarin. On the tougher side, can I say and we, our thoughts are still with what happened, that awful atrocity in Christchurch in New Zealand. And can I say ASIO and the AFP are very focused on any extremism right wing extremists and they will focus on that. Something I’m really excited about and that the PM, after that awful attack under the safer community funding grants made the grants very focused on supporting multicultural communities. In particular for religious organisations and in actual fact, nearly one-third of that funding was to Muslim communities. So, and the great news is, with this latest strand of the Budget, Safer Communities, again, we have $35 million and something I’m really excited about half that money will be for early intervention programs, to make sure young people don’t go down the wrong paths whether it be in gangs or extremism. So, we’re 100 per cent behind our multicultural communities in calling out racism.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Minister, And I think we have time for one final question today. And it’s a question for you, Prime Minister, from Susan Gin from the Chinese Association of Victoria. Please go ahead Ms Gin.
Question: Thank you, Alice. Prime Minister, the Federal Government’s response to the pandemic has been both swift and impactful for many of us in our migrant communities, whom, as you have mentioned, are predominantly in small businesses. And please accept our sincere thanks to you and to Minister Tudge and Minister Wood for your leadership. My question centres on two measures announced in the recent budget, and one is to do with a range of tax incentives and income tax relief, and the other is the intention by the Government to reduce red tape and regulations to make it easier to do business. We applaud both of these measures. I’ll have to mention that for small businesses, due to the absence of an economy of scale, heavy compliance requirements do place a very real burden on our scarce resources and often on a very daily basis. So may I ask our Prime Minister to further elaborate on these measures and other support measures which are especially aimed at helping a small and medium businesses, who most of us in the migrant community happen to be to help us to recover and invest? Thank you.
Prime Minister: Well, thank you for the question Susan, I can see Samir there on the call. G’day, Samir. Samir’s a dear friend and many years ago when we were working together, I forget what portfolio I was in back then Samir, it doesn’t really matter. And I remember sitting down at the LMA in south western Sydney and we were talking about the issues and you talked to me about roads. You talked to me about police resources, you talked to me about urban amenity, you talked to me about education. [Audio error] remember that conversation and the reason I make reference to that, Susan, because you’ve just asked me about tax. I think one of the one of the great misconceptions in this country when it comes to dealing with multicultural policy is that it is restricted to issues of identity and things of that nature. But actually it’s just about achieving the same participation and quality of life and opportunity as any other Australian. That’s ultimately the goal in my view and I learnt that lesson early from Samir in his advocacy for his community. I’ve learnt it from Hass, I’ve learnt it from Benjamin. I’ve learnt it from so many of the people I can just see people on the screen and [inaudible] and so on. That’s been my great learning in this area. That if we focus on the things that actually enable communities to succeed and individuals to succeed, then multiculturalism and social cohesion is the by-product of that. So long as we identify things that might get in the way for particular communities or disadvantage them in terms of their participation. And Alan’s comments today about English language I think is a good example of that. That can be an impediment to people’s economic participation and social participation and even more significantly, their safety in whether it be the workplace or even in their own home.
So always keeping the focus I think on the broader things that matter to everyone regardless of their background I think is really important Susan. So, I thank you for raising that question. One thing I’ve always known about wherever someone has come from to this country there is an optimism and a sense of making a contribution and getting ahead that is indefatigable. And so I’ve always believed good tax policy is good multicultural policy, and that Australians being able to keep more of what they earn to be able to invest in their business to see them grow and see them succeed and how that is then ploughed back into the very organisations that are represented on this group today from those businesses makes the community stronger. So lower taxes through the particularly the one that I’m most proud of in this budget is the loss carry-back initiative. Now that initiative says to businesses who through no fault of their own this year will experience losses and particularly in the hospitality sector, the aviation sector, the entertainment sector. These are the areas that have been hardest hit and they would have what I’ll call COVID losses and their losses would normally they would have to wait some years before they could offset that against their profits when and indeed if they recover a few years down the track. Now that will be of absolutely no use to them at that point. What they need is they need to offset those losses right now and in the budget we’ve said that you can offset those COVID losses against the tax you paid over the last couple of years. So what would I hope, in many cases have been the likelihood of a stronger profit performance coming into this. And so, you can utilise the strength you had coming into this crisis to help you get out of it. I think this is one of the most innovative parts of this budget. It’s not one that I can usually explain in about five seconds on the news or in a radio interview or something like that. But I got to tell you I think it’s one of the most important things we’ve done in our COVID response. Yes we’ve brought forward the tax cuts the individual tax cuts they were already part of our plan they were already legislated. And we believed it was important to bring forward tax incentives Susan, that would encourage people to do something now with what they might have done in two years. And the same with the immediate expensing and the great virtue of the immediate expensing, which means you can write off anything of a capital nature in your business and there’s no cap on the value and for small and medium sized businesses because this goes up to $5 billion in turnover. So that’s going to – obviously, I think it’s about 98 per cent of businesses it’s going to cover doesn’t include the banks the big banks. But, whether that’s investing in a very large piece of plant or machinery in your factory, in the high technology business or advanced manufacturing business or buying a Hilux or a new blast freezer or whatever you need to have for your business to move forward it’s designed to bring forward that investment to get us through what is a gap what is a valley in what would occur with investment. And that’s been backed in with the Commonwealth and states’ investments too on infrastructure and various other things.
So this budget has quite a deliberate economic plan and the plan is assuming one thing that Australians are resilient and will back themselves to get out of this. And so the tax measures we’ve put in are designed to do that and I think that’s a good bet. I think it’s a very good bet and because people have worked hard for their businesses and none greater than those who have come to the country from somewhere else. Those challenges are greater than those Australians who were born here. And for that and I think often of Gladys Liu, who you know well I’m sure and when Gladys tells her story about her professional story and what she had to do. Now that is a story that others that sit around my cabinet table, Alan, or sit around our party room. There are some who have some that have some hard difficult stories in life. But, Gladys showed a determination, and I think that’s very characteristic of the migrant experience in Australia. So I really do hope that the tax measures we put in this budget to bring forward the investment measures the loss carry-backs. Yep, I hope people love the partner visas increase, I hope they like the English language extension lift and I hope they particularly like the commitment we’re making to anti-racism strategies and social – I hope that’s all great. But, the one that I hope that is talked around when we can get people back to restaurants and Box Hill or wherever it happens to be is that I was able to use the COVID losses to offset against those profits and my business is still going and I’m putting on another five people next year. That’s the conversation I want to hear amongst migrant entrepreneurial communities in Australia. And I sincerely hope the budget has given them a massive shot in the arm to know that we’re backing them. They’ve backed Australia in the choices they’ve made and we’re backing them.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Prime Minister.
Prime Minister: I was about to say Mr Speaker, I’ve completed my answer.
Department of Home Affairs Host: Thank you very much, Prime Minister and we’d like you to invite you to make any brief closing remarks, after which we’ll ask Minister Tudge as the host of today’s meeting to close the meeting.
Prime Minister: Well, look, I think I’ll just go straight to Tudgie, but I do want to thank you all again just for being on this call. Look I hope we can do this again, Alan. Can we, I’ll leave that to you and Woody to sort that out. And I’ve missed so many of you that I haven’t been able to see personally and it’s been nice to see your faces and I hope you’re all terribly well and as we go into the holiday seasons, I wish you and your families all the best. But I just really just want to say thank you for the leadership you’ve shown. Alan.
Minister Tudge: Yeah. Well, thanks PM and just let me say my thanks as well to everybody for participating today. I know we didn’t get to all of the questions, but we will follow up on the ones that you’ve submitted. Thanks PM for joining us today as well and we will make sure that we’ve got further ones of these coming up. We do have other senior cabinet leaders lined up for the weeks ahead for multicultural leaders to be able to communicate with as well. But, it’s so important that we maintain our engagements with all Australian leaders, including the ones here on this conference and I particularly want to request that you continue with that engagement as well with our regional directors. Their teams have been bolstered in this budget. We’re putting on more people who have got language skills as well so that if we’ve got any gaps we’ll be able to address some of those gaps there also. So, please maintain that engagement to feed that up to us.
Finally, for all those AFL supporters, I hope your team wins…
Assistant Minister Wood: Go Tigers.
Minister Tudge:…on the weekend and I know Woody is a keen Richmond supporter. No doubt there are some other Richmond supporters on the line as well. I’m going for the Cats for what it’s worth. So good luck, everybody, for your code this weekend. Thank you once again.