MIL-OSI Australia: Joint doorstop interview, Melbourne

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Source: Australian Treasurer

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Today we’re backing Australia’s plan to open up in a COVID‑safe way, hoping to bring an end to the lockdowns and enable Australians to get their lives back. Our announcement today is based on the best medical and economic advice. Currently, the Commonwealth is paying over $1 billion a week to 1.5 million Australians on the COVID disaster payment. It’s a payment of up to $750 a week based on the number of hours worked. It is a recurring payment, so as of the 70 per cent double‑dose vaccination rates being reached in individual states or territories, people on a COVID disaster payment will be required to reapply each week. Once those states and territories reach a double‑dose vaccination rate of 80 per cent, the COVID disaster payment will come to an end. There will be, however, a two‑week transition period where payment in the first week will be $450, stepping down to a payment of $320 in the second week. The COVID disaster payment and the individual business support measures that we have entered into with the various states and territories have been emergency payments and these emergency payments, like lockdowns, can’t continue indefinitely. When we brought JobKeeper to an end, at the end of March this year, we saw the jobs come back very quickly. 120,000 jobs were created when JobKeeper was brought to an end, between April and July. Similarly, we are expecting when restrictions are eased that people will get back to work, businesses will reopen and people will get about their daily lives. The Australian economy has proven to be remarkably resilient through this crisis but, of course, Delta has been a game changer and has represented a significant hit to the economy. Today’s announcement aligns with the national plan agreed at National Cabinet where restrictions are eased at 70 to 80 per cent and lockdowns will, hopefully, become a thing of the past. I now handover to my colleague and good friend Bridget McKenzie. 

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

Thanks, Josh. Absolutely great news today as we make our way out of the COVID pandemic. We see states and territories outlining their plans to end lockdowns as we see those vaccination rates skyrocket. So, fantastic work to all Australians who are doing the heavy lifting and getting those double‑dose vaccination rates up. So far, the COVID disaster payment has assisted those Australians who have lost more than eight hours of work a week due to Commonwealth declared hotspots and businesses shut down. We have helped over two million Australians to the tune of over $9 billion. Now, as we reach 70 per cent double vaccination rates, we are going to ask those Australians who are still living and working in Commonwealth–declared hotspots at that point in time to reapply for the COVID disaster payment each and every week to reaffirm that they have been unable to return to work. Because we do see over these different opening up plans that different industries in different states will be open at different times and that is a decision for state and territory leaders to make. But we stand ready to support those Australians as they make ‑ we all ‑ make our way to the golden number of 80 per cent double vaccination rate. When we reach 80 per cent double vaccination rate in a given state, the COVID disaster payment will cease and we will actually have a tapering mechanism of two weeks to ensure that as businesses open up and lockdowns become a thing of the past, Australians will be getting back to work. And I know businesses are very keen to open. I know Australians are very, very keen to get back to work. One of the important mechanisms that will support our move into Phase C of the national plan will be the pandemic leave disaster payment. Overseas experience has shown that we still will see people with COVID post 80 per cent double vaccination rate, so as a Federal Government we have a mechanism available to support individuals who test positive, those who are caring for someone who tested positive or those who are a close contact of somebody who has tested positive to COVID‑19. So, we are very excited with the vaccination rates, and we are looking forward to supporting Australians as we move towards double vaccination rates of 80 per cent. Josh. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Thanks, Bridget. Great technology. 

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

Didn’t know if it was going to make it there for a while. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well done. Okay. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST:

First to Mr. Frydenberg, why the choice to withdraw support in line with the vaccine thresholds and not economic conditions or other health restrictions?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, when we get to those thresholds of 70 to 80 per cent, the states have already laid out their plans to ease restrictions. So, the key here is people are going to start getting back to work, and that is what the national plan envisioned. As restrictions are eased and people get back to work, these emergency payments can come off. And that is why we need to provide that very clear message. If you look around the rest of the world, the United States and the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, people are learning to live with the virus in a COVID‑safe way. There may be certain health restrictions, mask‑wearing, density limits and the like, but people are learning to live with the virus. Here in Australia we’ve been on a bit of a journey. We obviously were seeking to suppress it and it became a reality for some that you can’t eliminate the virus, and that’s the reality. With Delta, you cannot eliminate the virus. So, you need to learn to live with it. We can’t live in lockdowns forever. Here in Melbourne, where Bridget and I are from, the State of Victoria, here in Melbourne, very sadly, we’ve endured the longest lockdown in the world. Consider that. The longest lockdown in the world here in Melbourne. People have had enough. People are at their wit’s end. They want their kids back at school. They want businesses to reopen. They are getting the jab in record numbers because they believe that’s the part of the compact they have with their governments, Federal and State, that when they get the jab, the restrictions will ease and that is what state governments need to provide.

JOURNALIST:

But under the states’ plans, even when we reach 80 per cent fully vaccinated there are still restrictions on hospitality, cafes and restaurants, pubs, is there going to be support for those workers who may not have the work that they had beforehand [inaudible]

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

Sorry, Josh. The COVID disaster payment has always been reliant on the declaration by the Commonwealth medical officer. So, even where states have locked down certain areas of their economy or their state where there hasn’t been a medical imperative from the Commonwealth’s perspective, it’s been the State Governments that have actually paid that COVID disaster payment, not the Commonwealth. So, we will continue up to 80 per cent to support people with a COVID disaster payment where it’s a Commonwealth declared hotspot. Our understanding, from the Commonwealth medical officer, is there will be very, very rare circumstances for the Commonwealth to be declaring a hotspot post 80 per cent as laid out in the national plan.

JOURNALIST:

Are you not concerned that some people will struggle to pay their bills once that disaster payment is gone? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the first thing to say is – 

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

That’s why – sorry, Josh. 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Go for it, Bridget. 

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

It’s all good. Well, we’re absolutely aware of that and that’s why we’ve got two weeks set down from the COVID disaster payment of $750 in the week that a state reaches that double vaccination rate of 80 per cent. The COVID disaster payment will then move to $450 for the next week if you still haven’t been able to get back to work and get those hours up. And the following week, we’re still going to be supplying $320 a week to those that are impacted. Now, then they will be able to transition either to JobSeeker and the support through our social security system as is appropriate. But we are hoping, and what evidence would show, is that our businesses will be opening and Australians will be getting back to work in those three weeks.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Frydenberg, on climate, your colleague Bridget McKenzie wrote in the Fin Review this week, and I quote – It is easy for the member for Kooyong … to publicly embrace a net zero target before the government has a position, because there would be next to zero real impact on the way of life of their affluent constituents. Are you too worried about being cool rather than the consequences of your decisions? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, firstly, climate change has no postcode. Climate change is a global challenge that requires national solutions. That’s why the Morrison Government has been active. That’s why our emissions are down by more than 20 per cent on 2005 levels. That’s why we’ve been reducing emissions faster than Japan and Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, because we’ve been getting on with implementing practical measures that reduce our carbon footprint consistent with our international agreements and commitments. Now, with respect to going forward, we’re obviously having very positive and constructive internal discussions. Not everyone will agree on every point, but we’re having constructive discussions internally about other aspects of that plan, longer‑term aspects of that plan, to reduce our emissions. But it shouldn’t be seen as a binary choice between the regions and jobs. It shouldn’t be seen as a binary choice between city electorates or suburban electorates and regional electorates. When you reduce emissions in accordance with a well‑considered, funded plan, you actually create jobs. And that’s what we’ve been seeking to do. So, we don’t need to pull down some to lift others up. What we’re seeking to do here is put in place national plans that reduces our carbon footprint and very much take into account what the implications are for the regions and the electorates that Bridget represents and colleagues from the National Party represent, as well as colleagues from the Liberal Party represent. And one of the things I pointed out in the speech I gave last week was that it’s wrong to assume as the world goes to net‑zero by 2050, this will see the agricultural sector or the resources sector decline because, in fact, many of those businesses in those sectors are at the cutting edge of innovation and technology that is reducing emissions. Take, for example, BHP. It is looking to power its mines from renewable energy. Look at what Andrew Forrest at Fortescue, another big Australian miner, is doing with hydrogen. And, of course, Bridget knows in the agricultural sector there are great opportunities from initiatives around soil carbon. It is about having well‑costed, well‑considered, evidence‑based plans to meet those targets. That’s what we’re focusing on. Of course, in my electorate climate change is an important issue, but it is in many electorates and indeed it is for the country as a whole.

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

Can I just say, because it was my opinion piece, Josh. So, I think what the – the messages that I was seeking to articulate in that piece, and I hope everyone’s taken the time to read it. If you haven’t, please contact my office, we’ll circulate it to you. But, firstly, was to actually challenge the assumption which is right throughout a lot of the media and the broader commentariat that rural and regional Australians are anti‑climate and the National Party anti–caring for the climate. Rural and regional Australians were conservationists long before the environment was weaponised for ideology, long before, because we rely on it for our future and our whole identity is wrapped up in our sense of place, which is the natural environment. The second message I had in that opinion piece was that we had a job to do in the National Party and that is to stand up for our constituents and the industries that not just prop up our own local economies, but indeed prop up our national economy. And we’d be derelict in our duties as MPs and Senators if we did not assess the impact of government policy on our people and our industries. That’s the second message. And the third message was that in this very, very serious debate, there are MPs out there, Josh isn’t one of them, Sharma isn’t one of them, but there are MPs out there who want to be cool for the climate, want to be cool on climate change, want to be popular without actually understanding and assessing and evaluating the consequences of these decisions, because this is a serious debate. And Josh made that point in his address last week. This is a structural change to the global and, if adopted, to our domestic way of life. I want to remind everybody that over a decade ago, this country was debating whether we put a carbon tax in place. Now, it was the National Party that led the charge that said that that would be a bad idea. It’s now bipartisan policy. The Liberal Party and the Labor Party now think the carbon tax is a bad idea. But you know what’s happened in that decade? We’ve reduced our emissions as a nation by 20 per cent. Agriculture is aspiring to get to net‑zero emissions by 2030, our beef guys, because they see an economic and a trade value to doing that. So, I don’t back away from my comments at all. I think this is a very serious debate and we need to go forward with respect into it, bringing, obviously, the best of our intellects and our values and, hopefully, get to an outcome that makes sure that regional Australians don’t pay the price for an aspiration in Glasgow.

JOURNALIST:

Senator McKenzie, do you agree then with the New South Wales Nationals agreeing to a plan to cut emissions by 50 per cent within a decade? Do you think it’s a good decision? 

BRIDGET McKENZIE:

Look, I spoke to Barra. It’s a bit like us at the national level being able to reduce our emissions by 20 per cent without Government mandates, without carbon tax. What the New South Wales Government has found is without mandating, without actually having economy‑wide taxes to reduce emissions, their industries have gotten on with reducing emissions and what simply today is an update and they’ve found, you know what, people are getting on with it and are lowering emissions without actually taxing the economy. That’s a good news story. 

JOURNALIST:

Thanks. Treasurer, in terms of you and Minister McKenzie aren’t on the same page on climate and there are different views in your electorates, but are you comfortable with your colleague and those comments coming through in the newspaper? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, again, Bridget just explained her position. I tell you what we do agree on – technology not taxes. And we do agree on plans and we do agree on ensuring that we fully understand the consequences of our decision. And the proof point is the fact that our emissions are down by more than 20 per cent. The fact that we’ve taken the equivalent of three million cars off the road through our various actions. The fact that in Australia today we have the highest per capita basis number of solar panels on people’s roofs. The fact that we put in place a technology investment road map which will see around $20 billion of Government funding helping to leverage around $80 billion of funding designed to reduce our carbon footprint by investing in a range of initiatives and technologies. Both Bridget and I, who have known each other for a very long time and are indeed good friends, we work together in the cabinet and it is really important that we have those discussions, as we are, internally, and we all reach conclusions of those discussions in due course. And we’ll have more to say about that later. What I was seeking to do in my speech last week as the Treasurer was to explain that the markets are moving and that the markets have been pricing in, and it’s reflected in asset allocation, it’s reflected in the way they assess risk, moving to a net‑zero world. And you see that with the major fund managers and you see that with the role of the banks and a whole range of other investors in the market. That impacts on Australia because we are highly dependent on foreign investment ‑ about $4 trillion of foreign investment in this country and about 50 per cent, close to 50 per cent, of our Government bonds are bought by foreign investors. And in terms of the bank borrowings, about 20 per cent come from offshore to fund everything from the home mortgage to a small business loan to a major infrastructure project. So, we have to be very conscious of these trends that are occurring in global financial markets. That being said, when Australia signs up, it follows through. And that has been a record with Kyoto and with Paris and we’re continuing to have those very constructive discussions internally. And I pay tribute to the work of Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce who are having these mature discussions behind closed doors so we can work through these issues. 

JOURNALIST: 

Do you believe, Treasurer, that those discussions will lead to a net‑zero deal with the Nationals? Will the Prime Minister be (inaudible)?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look, I’m not going to pre‑empt the outcome of those discussions but Angus Taylor has been doing a lot of really good work in this area, working through the detail. And having been an Energy and Environment Minister and with the scars to show it, I know how difficult these issues are and how you need to bring various wings of our political parties together, how you need to work with stakeholders who represent a range of different interests and, of course, it’s engineering, it’s science and it’s economics all rolled into one pretty complex equation. So, I won’t pre‑empt the outcomes of those discussions other than to say they’ve been constructive discussions and the Prime Minister’s and Barnaby Joyce’s comments speak for themselves.

JOURNALIST:

Just on housing affordability, your comments yesterday suggest the Council on Financial Regulators is close to bringing in new limits on high‑debt‑to‑income home loans. Is there a risk of a sudden borrowing frenzy if these restrictions are flagged but come into effect soon?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the first thing to say is I did discuss developments in dynamics within the housing market with the Council of Financial Regulators last week. On the Council of Financial Regulators, which is chaired by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, is APRA, is ASIC, is the ACCC, and it was a very good discussion. What we are seeing here in Australia is not too dissimilar from what we’re seeing in the rest of the world in terms of their housing markets: historically low interest rates fuelling higher house prices. And what has been pleasing to see in this cycle is that owner–occupiers and first home buyers have been coming into the market in greater numbers than we’ve seen in previous housing cycles. And programs like HomeBuilder have been very important in that regard. But we’ve also got to be conscious of the balance between credit growth and income growth, and we’ve also got to be conscious of future risks building up in the system. And so that is why APRA is looking very closely, the RBA is looking very closely at what particular levers they have at their disposal to ensure that we maintain stability in our housing market. Last time they looked at the serviceability buffers. Last time they looked at investor growth as part of the overall lending book and a range of other measures they had at their disposal. They’re deliberating that internally. But what we do know is that the investors or the first home buyers or others who may be affected by this will be a very small proportion of the overall market, but what these measures are designed to do in the past, and we’ll wait for any final decision by the regulators in this case, is designed to prevent the build‑up of future risks. So, if you act now, it means you do not have to act in the same way or to a greater degree in the future. Do something now means less is required later. Thank you. Thanks, Bridget.

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