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Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s National Cabinet Press Conference: An Evolving Federation

Last updated on December 11, 2023

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference in Canberra today, following a video meeting of the National Cabinet.

In a statement that was both declarative and inspecific, Morrison said that the National Cabinet sought to find a way through the pandemic lockdowns to opening up the economy. “So, we agreed today seven out of eight states and territories, we agreed that before you know what you’re going to do, you’ve got to agree about where you want to get to. And we agreed today with the objective that was set out in the May plan to be at the end of that step three process, which we will seek to ensure is even better defined.”

Morrison also the National Cabinet had to evolve. “So, we’ve decided that this notion of 100 percent, absolute consensus on any issue is not a way that the National Cabinet can indeed work. And so what we will do is we will set out areas where we can come together, and get as many states and territories as possible to come around that agreement. Not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station. But it is important the bus leaves the station, and we all agree on that. We all agree on that. Even when, on occasions, some might not want to get on, they know we need to keep moving forward and that is supported, and that’s what we agreed to do today. And I think that is a change in the way our Federation works.”

The National Cabinet is still grappling with the definition of a pandemic “hotspot”. The states have indicated they will not budge on their previous decisions on closing border crossings.

Watch Morrison’s press conference (46m):

Listen to Morrison’s press conference (46m):

Transcript of press conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly.

PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: Good afternoon. Australia is something we can never take for granted. And I’m not talking about Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef or the Opera House or the great wilderness across our country, I’m talking about us. I’m talking about our Federation. I’m talking about who we are as a nation. And in every generation, we must continue to define who we are, how we make Australia work, what we hope to achieve, how we protect it, how we make it stronger. And our Federation, some almost 120 years later, remains a happy work in progress. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that happy, but I tell you, the goal is one that I think all Australians would share and that’s what brings a smile to our face when we think of Australia. Not just the place, as wonderful it is, but how we make Australia work. And that is the task of all of those who come and meet in this place, in our Federal Parliament, but it is also the job of all of those who come together in our state parliaments, those who form governments and seek to work together in the ways that our Federation intended.

This year, the year of the COVID pandemic and the COVID recession, has tested us like we haven’t been tested in many generations. And, you know, at times it has felt like Australia could break apart. But it’s at those same times I have been encouraged by that all of us have understood just how important Australia is. At the times when sometimes our frustrations have been greatest, and the tensions have been at their peak, that has been exactly the same time when we have been reminded of just how important it is that we continue this great work of our Federation and how it has delivered for Australians for over a century. The National Cabinet began from a realisation that, if we each went and tried to go our own way, that in the face of something at the time we could barely imagine, that we wouldn’t prevail, and that we would fall short. And so our Federation instincts kicked in. I remember the day vividly. There was no disagreement, there was no debate about it. We all looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to do this. And we’ve got to come together.” Now, from time to time, those Federation instincts have grown a little faint, but I can tell you today, once again, as I find each and every time I bring this National Cabinet together, they find it again, and we find the way to work through. And this, I hope, is very reassuring to Australians that, despite the challenges – and it is hard, the Federation is hard, always has been. Anyone who’s ever sat in my office has always known that, and we’ve all tried to find better ways to make it work and so we remain committed to that. And as we reflected today, on what has been achieved since that day in March, and as we reflected on the devastating news of the national accounts this week and we saw and reflected on the health outcomes that we’ve been able to achieve over these many months, I can only nominate to you quite honestly Taiwan and South Korea who could claim to have had a better combined outcome on the economy and on health than Australia. There may be others and I’m sure some will nominate. But what I can tell you is that the approach we’ve taken as a National Cabinet to focus on the health of the nation, and its economic wellbeing, and to see these as twin tasks, has meant that Australia has done extraordinarily well. That’s not to say there has not been pain or suffering or hurt or disappointment or frustration. We’ve had all of that, and more, and there’s more to come. But I’d rather be in Australia than anywhere else. And that’s the same view of all of my colleagues who sit around that National Cabinet table, indeed, my own Federal Cabinet table. And we want to make sure that that continues to be the case and that’s what we’ve done again today.

So, today we made a number of agreements. The first one, I think, was to acknowledge that how the National Cabinet worked also needed to evolve. One of the reasons COAG and its predecessors never worked was there was the unrealistic and, frankly, not very practical expectation that it could only ever operate on complete, 100 percent consensus. That sets the Federation up to fail. Australia is too diverse a place. The challenges are too disparate to think that, on every single issue, every state and territory is going to come to exactly the same point. That is not a realistic expectation. And as we’ve gone through the COVID pandemic, whereas back in March, as we looked forward, we all had a similar risk outlook as to what might happen, so we moved quickly to put in place the PPE capabilities and stockpiles, and to get the respirators, and build up our ICU capacity, and get the testing equipment in and have those arrangements put in place so we could build our defences, now, almost six months later, all the states and territories sit in a different position and they’re coming from a different point of risk. And so it is not surprising that they all have different outlooks about what their challenges are right now, and what they might be in the months ahead. So, we’ve decided that this notion of 100 percent, absolute consensus on any issue is not a way that the National Cabinet can indeed work. And so what we will do is we will set out areas where we can come together, and get as many states and territories as possible to come around that agreement. Not everyone has to get on the bus for the bus to leave the station. But it is important the bus leaves the station, and we all agree on that. We all agree on that. Even when, on occasions, some might not want to get on, they know we need to keep moving forward and that is supported, and that’s what we agreed to do today. And I think that is a change in the way our Federation works.

So, we agreed today seven out of eight states and territories, we agreed that before you know what you’re going to do, you’ve got to agree about where you want to get to. And we agreed today with the objective that was set out in the May plan to be at the end of that step three process, which we will seek to ensure is even better defined. We said before we wanted to get there in July and the virus prevented us from achieving that. Seven out of eight states and territories want us to get back to that position in December of this year and I thank them for that commitment. And that, having that ambition is not enough, and that aspiration that we will now fashion a revised plan just like I outlined the last one to get us there, over these months that are ahead. And the componentry of that plan, there’s things that need to go into it not its final form but the key areas of actions that need to take place. They will be brought up through both the AHPPC, the medical expert panel on the health measures that are necessary, and what’s called the National Coordinating Mechanism, which is on the economic side of the things that need to be achieved. What’s different about this plan from the last one is it just isn’t about how many people you can have in a cafe, as important as that is. It’s about how the testing regimes have to work, the availability of passenger manifests for people moving around the country, the sort of surveillance testing arrangements which can be, frankly, through the testing of sewerage or, more broadly, the specific testing arrangements and the sort of ratios you need to hit to ensure that you can have a confidence about the level of outbreak, if it were to occur in any place. In all of these areas, there’s a necessity to put the protections in place so, as we open up, that we can be confident and states can look at each other and be more confident about how people can move between the various jurisdictions. It means that we need to have a good understanding and an open data room between states and territories to know what the incidence of outbreaks are or case numbers are, and the source of those things, so states can make decisions in confidence as part of a plan.

We agreed that moving to the hotspot model as a concept is what must be in that plan. This precise definition of that hotspot, well, the national definition which the Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Kelly, has provided, is a good starting point. But it’s not the final point and there will be further discussion on how that can be more specifically defined and this will take some time to get that right. But the idea of ultimately moving beyond a situation where you have hard borders, but you move to a situation where you can have a workable hotspot concept, then that is something we are going to give it our best possible go to define and to make work. States, of course, will reserve ultimately the decisions they take, but all of those who have committed to this path have agreed that we should work hard to get that in its best possible form. The protections, the response capabilities, all of which forms the plan.

State bilateral and multilateral arrangements will also form part of this plan and I think that reflects the very different issues that you have, particularly when you’re seeking to transition out of border arrangements we currently have. As you know, the New South Wales and Victorian Premiers are very keen to get their border down as soon as it’s safe to do so. And so bilateral arrangements, which would become a trilateral arrangement and I welcome the participation of South Australia in joining in that same way to ensure that those issues around the Victorian border, with their neighbouring states in New South Wales and South Australia, South Australia will join that process with New South Wales and Victoria, which the Commonwealth is also a part of. But whatever that bilateral or multilateral arrangement might be to deal with specific issues in different parts of the country, that forms part of the plan. Tasmania, I note, in particular already has a goal of having its border down in December as well and I welcome their commitment to that, as I do all the states and territories who have committed to this today. Now, Western Australia has set out some very specific circumstances in their state as to why they won’t be joining that aspiration at this time. That said, they wish us well, and they will participate in that process, where they’ve got things they believe that they can offer and I believe there are many things they can offer in that process. So, they are not standing completely separate for that process. They will continue to work with us. But, for them, they have got their path set, and we respect that. Western Australia has a very different border and a very different economy than most of the other states and territories where these decisions have been made. There are not large border towns. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there are virtually none along the Western Australian border. Their economy is of a much greater scale than the South Australian and the Tasmanian economies. So, they will watch carefully, they will look on, and the thing about our new way of working in National Cabinet is the door always remains open and they are always able to join us at a subsequent time. But this, I believe, will give us a more sustainable way forward. Because it’s not just about now until December. In the absence of a vaccine, we may have to live this way for years, and we need it to be as sustainable and workable for as long as possible. And so I need to encourage everyone that we need to look just beyond not just the now. No one is asking anyone to take anyone’s borders down now. No one’s asking that. It’s about when we get to the next stage and what the next stage looks like, and then how that works not just for the next few months, but potentially years, but let’s hope that that’s not necessary.

The second thing that was agreed was the agricultural code has been adopted by five out of the eight states and territories. Those who didn’t join were Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania, but they will look on, again, to see how that process works, and particularly South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria will begin immediately. And I think the Premier of Victoria may have indicated this in his press conference. They will begin immediately to put that prescriptive code in place to facilitate greater engagement of agricultural workers and other important workers in the agricultural sector, so as to not dislocate what is occurring in the ag sector between those three states and territories. Again, I thank them for their support.

On international arrivals, it was agreed that we needed to further boost the capacity for inbound arrivals into Australia, particularly for those Australians seeking to come home. We noted that New South Wales has been doing all the heavy lifting on this, and they really are at their capacity for the time being. And so, as I discussed with Cabinet during the course of this week, the Transport Minister will be working with others to see if we can get flights that currently all seek to come to Sydney, to see if we’re in a position to try and get them to go into other ports, whether that be in Perth, in Adelaide, in Darwin, the ACT, or elsewhere, even Tasmania. Premier Gutwein was keen to be part of this, if that’s possible. We want to get more Australians home and we need to do that safely as well, and not compromise the quarantine arrangements we have here as well. About almost 4,000 Australians are coming home every week, but we know there are many more who are trying to get home, and further support has been provided to DFAT to assist those Australians, particularly in hardship, overseas.

As part of that approach, I spoke to Prime Minister Ardern this morning, and what we, I advised her was that Australia will be looking to apply the same hotspot approach to New Zealand. So, that means, when we’re in a position to do so, and when the Acting Chief Medical Officer has come to a set of arrangements with New Zealand, then we would be able to have New Zealanders come to Australia. That doesn’t mean Australians can go to New Zealand. That’s a matter for Prime Minister Ardern. But if there’s no COVID in Christchurch, and there’s no COVID in Queensland, then there’s no reason both of them can’t come to Sydney. And that will mean, I think, an important boost for our tourist economy, whether it’s in New South Wales or anywhere else. And so Prime Minister Ardern was very happy to have further discussions on that, but ultimately that’s a decision for our border and people coming in to Australia. But we would just need to ensure that the arrangements in place of identifying hotspots and things of that nature were well understood and were practical.

The treasurers, through the Treasurers’ Subcommittee of National Cabinet, recommended today some great work that Treasurer Frydenberg and his counterparts had been working on. We have now reduced 82 existing agreements between all the states and territories to five core agreements. I never thought I would ever say that. There’s still a lot of work to do, then, on consolidating the content of those agreements, but that was adopted by National Cabinet. We also agreed to the tasking of the National Cabinet Subcommittee on Energy. That will task them with some short and medium term priorities, and that does include the resetting of the gas market. We received, importantly, a briefing today from the Bureau of Meteorology, a briefing that I’ve received, along with other senior Cabinet ministers, regarding the upcoming summer season. And we agreed that the Emergency Management Australia would immediately be tasked to convene with the states and territories to ensure there was a seamless operational arrangement between states and territories that was COVID-safe. That would mean, given the prospect of bushfires, whether in particular in northern Australia and south west Western Australia, or indeed cyclones and floods in other places, that the movement of emergency services workers, bushfire firefighters, and Defence Force personnel could be done as quickly as possible. We obviously don’t want firefighters doing two weeks in hotel quarantine when there’s a fire burning in south western Australia. We need these arrangements to work first time, and so Emergency Management Australia has been tasked with that.

And we also noted again our benchmark report that has provided on the social impacts of what is occurring with COVID-19. The very real stressors that are on mental health, and we affirmed again our support to putting in place all the mental health supports we can, and domestic violence supports, to ensure that those issues are addressed as best as we all can, working together. I’m sorry, that was a very long introduction. It was a long meeting. As I said, it was a day again when National Cabinet understood just how important Australia was, and we found our way through, again, and I thank them for their cooperation and their commitment to what we’re seeking to do.

Professor Kelly.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, ACTING CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, PM. So, today, as the PM has said, we had a lot of discussion about COVID-19 here in Australia, and so just the outlook at the moment. The numbers of cases, 26,000, just over 26,000 cases now. 737 deaths, sadly. Putting that in a global context, we’ve reached a milestone overnight of 26 million cases. So, one thousandth of that is here in Australia. So, we have our issues. We’ve had our outbreak particularly in Victoria over the past few weeks, but, again, very good news in comparing last week with this week on a 7 day average, we’ve halved the number of cases in Victoria. That’s been that sort of trend for the past few weeks. And so good news there. Also, the numbers of cases are contracting into Melbourne and into the hotspots that were originally identified there several weeks ago. Today we have less than a hundred new cases in Australia, and six out of eight jurisdictions have no cases at all. So, Victoria and New South Wales are there. Queensland on alert, as we’ve seen in the last few weeks in terms of cases, but no new cases today. That’s all very good news. 67,000 tests yesterday. So, that’s continuing. But that’s something to think about what the PM has mentioned, about the different experiences we’re having right now in Australia in relation to this pandemic. So, in some states, they haven’t had cases for many weeks, and in some states the testing rates have dropped, partly because of that, and partly because of not having a flu season this year. But, still, we need to remain vigilant, even in places where there are no cases and have been no cases for some time. We’ve seen the New Zealand experience in relation to that. So, even after a hundred days, you can get cases. Similarly in Thailand overnight that was also reported, first cases for several months.

So, we need to remain vigilant. It’s the reason why we have this proposed hotspots definition. And there are three potential uses for that. There is an in principle agreement that we will have a hotspot discussion in seven out of eight jurisdictions. That’s been agreed. More than that and I can report from the Australian Health Protection Committee yesterday eight out of eight jurisdictions agreed that hotspots are to be used by the Commonwealth in relation to what we may offer in support to various states that are experiencing hotspots. That was agreed by all of the Chief Health Officers and myself. But, of course, hotspots also guide what happens locally in states, and that’s absolutely their prerogative to work with that. And, indeed, what happens in terms of border restrictions, and as the PM’s mentioned, that’s a commitment that we’ve had to go forward and to look in more detail in that. The transparency of data across borders is absolutely crucial to that, as well as the clarity of what is being done and why, as well as, of course, the public health readiness if there was an outbreak to occur, particularly in places where there hasn’t been a case for some time. We have to be absolutely ready and be committed to do that if it occurs.

So, I’ll leave it there, PM.

MORRISON: Thank you. Mark?

JOURNALIST: An observation and a question, it seems today you’re accepting that the ‘we’re all in this together’ consensus that National Cabinet was established to achieve, is now not achievable, so you’re changing the rules and lowering the expectations. That’s an observation you might like to comment on. Secondly, you’ve stated a desire for all Australians to be able to travel across borders to be together as families at Christmas. Are you saying today that won’t happen?

MORRISON: What I’m saying today is that 7 out of 8 states and territories has agreed with that ambition for Christmas. And whether that’s achieved in Western Australia or not, well, that will be up to Western Australia. But what National Cabinet is, is practical. And we’re not going to make the mistakes that previous Federation arrangements enabled to be made. And I’m not going to hold Australia back when one or two jurisdictions, at this point in time because of their own circumstances, don’t wish to go along with the path that the country is seeking to go in. I think that’s just common sense, Mark. I think that’s just practical. I think that’s what people would expect of me. That’s what you try and do every day. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a business or you are running a community organisation or you’re a parent, you try and get all the kids in the car. And you try and do everybody at the same place at the same time. Particularly if they’re teenagers, that gets a lot harder and they’ll do their own thing every now and again. Now I know you were going to make the obvious comparisons, and I would encourage you not to, and to resist that temptation, Mark. What I’m saying is, is that we all seek, in each and every day, to try and get as many people going in the same direction as possible. And what we have achieved, I think, today is a common sense set of rules as to how we can take the Federation forward. I consider, you know, all of my partners as Premiers and Chief Ministers in the National Cabinet, we’ve come together all as the adults in the room on this, Mark. So, I can make that one really clear, to ensure that we’re going forward and doing the best thing we believe is in the interests of the country.


JOURNALIST: You’ve conceded that, or you’ve accepted that WA is not on the bus right now, or not getting on the bus right now. When would you like them to get on the bus?

MORRISON: Well, that’s a matter for them.

JOURNALIST: Do you accept that the border could be in place for years?

MORRISON: Well, only the Premier of Western Australia could answer that question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the definition of a hotspot, could we get some clarity on that? Like what’s been proposed? Are we talking about LGAs with 10 or 50 cases? It seems pretty nutty that we have a, basically a virtual COAG with the same parochialism, and it can’t land on a definition of a hotspot?

MORRISON: I think that’s a very cynical view, Andrew. What we agreed today is that, we first needed to agree where we wanted to get to, and that was to get to a sustainable set of arrangements where Australians could move around, using a hotspot model by Christmas. That’s what we agreed today. And what we also have today is a commonwealth defined hotspot, which is the starting point for having one more broadly agreed by those states and territories, which are going to go down that path. And, you know, not everything is gonna turn up every time on the same day at the same time. What we’re on is the path to get to that agreed position. We’ve set out, for the first time, a Commonwealth defined position. And for those who agree to go down the path of having a hotspot, well, we’ll now work on the precise details with them now. Well, the hotspot decision of the commonwealth has been released. And so you can read that at your leisure.

JOURNALIST: That was the first part of my question. The second part, if in a few months’ time, we’re in the same situation we have been in the last few weeks, where we’re hitting roadblocks with states and so forth. Is it an option for the Federal Government to start using its financial levers to ensure compliance, or, with the border openings and things?

MORRISON: No, that’s not my approach. The idea that because a Premier or a Chief Minister might have a different view to me about how we should go forward is not a reason for me to punish through withholding funds to states and territories for essential services. I’m not about that. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to work together with people. And I think some have made those suggestions. I don’t think they’re practical suggestions. We will continue to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on in every state and territory, and I will seek to bring states and territories together as best as I can to ensure we’re all heading in the same direction. Many of you who stand in the courtyard now have been covering this place for a very long time. The idea that there are differences of view between states and territories will not come as an earth-shattering conclusion to you. I mean, that has been the mainstay of how states and the Commonwealth have been seeking to work together for 120 years almost. I think today we have arrived at an even more practical way of dealing with our differences. And to acknowledge that they occur. A system that doesn’t think, or is designed around a principle that everyone will agree every time on everything, just, frankly, doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t pass the pub test.


JOURNALIST: You speak about not taking Australia for granted. What do you say to Australians who want to come home to Australia but can’t? And can you elaborate a little bit more on what was agreed today in terms of international borders? We’re seeing some quite distressing cases of Australians not being able to get home, they’re becoming increasingly anxious about that closure.

MORRISON: We’re doing everything we can, Brett, to help people get home as quickly as we can. We obviously have restrictions based on the requests made to us by the state about how many people can come in and be in quarantine at any one time. New South Wales have had to do the heavy lifting on that. What I got agreement out from those other states and territories today was that they would be open, and work with us to take further flights in those places if we can get the planes to fly there. I mean these are commercial flights, they’re not flights run by the Australian Government. They’re commercial flights, which aren’t, I’d be surprised if they were running at anything near other than a massive loss on every single flight. And so to get them to go to places that would enable us to take, get more Australians back into the country, I think it would be very useful. The idea that New Zealanders would not have to go into quarantine because they’re coming from COVID-free areas would also free up paces, places I should say, in quarantine. Equally, if states aren’t requiring Australians coming from areas where there is no COVID cases, like the ACT, and that they don’t have to go into hotel quarantine in places, well, that obviously frees up more capacity as well. And so I think the agreements we’ve made today to go down a hotspot path is a concept I think that will also free up some of that movement. As I said, we’ve given additional resources and support to DFAT to assist people in hardship. And our consular officers are doing everything they can to support people in those arrangements. But ultimately it means we need to have more arrivals coming back into Australia, and for that to happen, then we have to have confidence that the quarantine arrangements will be able to withstand that. Otherwise we open the country up to a different kind of risk.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Prime Minister, Prime Minister, to Professor Kelly first if I may. You have 30 years’ experience as an epidemiologist, what, in your medical opinion, is the reason for a farmer in New South Wales not being able to go over the border into Queensland, where there’s no COVID, and harvest a crop? And if I may, PM, if Premiers are telling you that they don’t agree with the man to your right and all the experience that the committee he heads brings, will you demand that the Premiers present their own medical advice and show Australians that they are being led by the health advice and not by politics?

MORRISON: Well, I might start. The Agricultural Workers’ Code would enable us to overcome the problem you’ve outlined. And that’s why I was pleased today that New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the ACT, and the Northern Territory all agreed to that code. And, in particular, on that Victorian border with both South Australia and New South Wales, that will enable, I hope, to get over many of the problems just like the ones you’ve mentioned. Now, it was put to Queensland today that they should be part of that conversation, and they’ve said, “Not yet. No, we won’t be doing that.” Now, what I’ve always said about states that have made their own decisions about borders is that they obviously need to be transparent in my view, about the basis for those decisions. We have provided a clinically based, scientifically based, definition of what a “hotspot” is in Australia. And where states are moving to make different decisions on different criteria, I think it’s only reasonable not just to me, I’m just another Australian it’s important, I think, more broadly that people understand why they would be taking a different assessment and what medical advice that was based on. I’ve said that consistently for months.


JOURNALIST: There are businesses that are growing increasingly concerned about Victoria’s road map that will be announced on Sunday. Is it too confusing for Victoria to go its own way with its traffic light system at this stage? Wouldn’t it be better that they use the national plan that’s already been set out, or the new one that you’re going to agree to? And just on the New Zealand travel bubble, are you suggesting that that would likely, or could be in place by Christmas, if we’ve got Australians travelling around the country based on hotspots, we can also have New Zealanders coming in not from hotspots?

MORRISON: Well, first of all, I mean, Premier Andrews will outline his plan, I understand, on Sunday. That will be his plan, Victorian Government’s plan. That is about reopening an economy from Stage 4 lockdown into its next phase. What we’re talking about, and what we’ve talked about today, isn’t about Stage 4 going forward. That is about how Australians can move around the country, how hotspots are defined, how information is shared. So, they’re two different tasks. So, it’s not like he has a very prescriptive plan from the commonwealth about how he opens up Victoria. We have engaged with him and the National Coordinating Mechanism has provided a lot of information and support, and potential ways that can be done. That is true. We have engaged with him on all of those. And I’ll have further discussions with the Premier. But, ultimately, what the Premier does in Victoria will be a matter for him, and he will define how that works. Now, they have been engaging industry far more than I think happened on the way in, for the way out. I welcome that. I know there’s been a lot of feedback, and issues raised with that system. I’m aware of elements of it, but I’m not aware, I haven’t seen the full package myself. I’m sure that is still being worked on by the Victorian Government. But I do like it that they are talking to industry about how this can happen. I think in these situations it’s always best, if it’s as simple as possible, that it is a negative list based approach. What I mean by that is it’s always talked about a black list and a white list, but what that means is that you have a number of things you can’t do rather than specifying the things you can, and leaving the rest in a rather ambiguous state. That was a principle that we used in the early phases of the pandemic, when we said what you couldn’t do, and therefore if that wasn’t one of those things, then you could do everything else. We’ve always found that to be a more simple and clear approach, and avoids any ambiguity. The Premier is going to have to make decisions with his health advisers about the level of cases. I mean, the number of cases is still too high. And one of the things I know the Premier is keen to avoid and I believe Victorians, I think, would have some sympathy with this. Is they don’t want to have gone through all of this terrible restriction that they’ve gone through, these many weeks and more weeks to come, only to seek to re-emerge and relapse. They would want to be confident that the way out was sustainable and built up the strength and the capabilities so they would never have to go back to this. And I know that’s an issue that the Premier is considering very carefully. And they’re the issues that the Premier will be working through, and I wish him well with doing that. And he and I, I’m sure, will speak further about that between now and then. Now, in terms of New Zealand, yes, that is very possible. But I wouldn’t describe it as the “bubble”. I wouldn’t say necessarily it will be a two-way bubble. That will be up to the New Zealanders. But if we can get to a position where we understand how the hotspots can be identified in New Zealand, then that would mean, hopefully, between now and then we may well be in a position for New Zealanders to come to Australia and experience Australia, which will be great for our tourism industry, and we’d welcome that, and it would also take a lot of pressure off rooms in quarantine, which means more Australians can get home.


JOURNALIST: Two days ago, where Annastacia Palaszczuk was complaining, basically, that some of her travel industry people were losing JobKeeper. She’s the one with the border control that’s depriving those travel industry people of customers. We’re seeing that around the country. Should states that impose these restrictions on their own economy carry more of the burden of the economic help to their own people because of the costs of their decisions on state borders?

MORRISON: Well, JobKeeper is a national program, and it’s transitioning. And it’s extended and expanded out until the end of March. And JobKeeper has been a lifesaver for businesses, particularly tourism and hospitality businesses, not just in Queensland but many other places. But the best way for tourism businesses to revive is to have more tourists. It’s pretty simple. That’s what I know they want. And we need to do that in the best and safest way we can. And so I think many of the things we agreed today provide a plan to achieve that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there are hundreds of Defence personnel posted around the country at the moment, away from their families. Many can’t go home because they can’t avoid quarantine on the way back. Now, should the states be looking at giving them exemptions?

MORRISON: Wherever you put a border up, and this is why I’ve been quite honest about this. It may be unintended, but the reality is you get some very cruel and get some very hard outcomes for people’s lives. My primary concern, particularly at the moment, is to be ensuring that we can get people to medical treatment. And Australians should be able to access a hospital in whatever state it’s in. Because they’re Australian hospitals. And it’s important that we facilitate that. And I want to thank, particularly, the New South Wales and South Australian Governments, and I want to particularly thank the Health Minister in New South Wales, Brad Hazzard. I’ve dealt with Brad on a number of these cases now, getting people in to surgery, getting people in to hospitals. Blasting through some of the bureaucracy that can occur, that inevitably arises because there are border arrangements in place. This is why I agree with the New South Wales Premier that the sooner you can get this down the better. And that must be the goal. So, whether it’s Defence Force personnel looking to go home, whether it’s kids at boarding school at the moment in COVID-free areas, wanting to go home to a COVID-free area for the holidays, and not have to spend two weeks in a hotel in a capital city and be away from their parents I find that heartbreaking too. So, these are the practical issues that need to be resolved. Now, I welcome the fact that the Queensland Government has set up this new unit, which I understand is operational from today, good a number of specialists there, particularly in the medical area that will be looking at particular cases to ensure that people can get from A to B to get their treatment. I welcome that. There’s been a lot of discussion about this. There’s been just some absolutely awful cases and so that as a first response I welcome that. But as long as you’ve got these borders like this particularly in the eastern states where there is a lot of movement for these purposes you are going to get these outcomes. That’s why what seven out of the eight states and territories have agreed today is so important, to avoid that. That’s the only way you will ultimately get to avoid it.

JOURNALIST: In the UK at the moment about Tony Abbott’s role, Nicola Sturgeon said he is a misogynist, do you share those views and what do you make of that debate?

MORRISON: I wish the former Prime Minister well. And as I’ve said before, he’s a good hire he knows a lot about trade and he did a lot of great work for Australia on trade when it came to the China free trade agreement and Japan and Korea. He set Australia up very well and the fact that we now have a current account surplus that we’ve had trade surpluses now for record periods of time I think speaks very well to his trade credentials so I wish Tony well.


JOURNALIST: When do you hope the Commonwealth’s definition of a hotspot will be in place. And are you suggesting that Queensland has agreed to adopt the Commonwealth’s hotspot, so what seven of eight states…

MORRISON: Have agreed that the concept of using a hotspot approach to manage movement of people around the country is something we should pursue as part of our plan to realise the goal we set out in July to now be achieved in December. The national the Commonwealth definition of a hotspot is the starting point for defining that, and the Acting Chief Medical Officer will work with the states and territories now to get greater precision to that and when that is done well that’s when it can be announced but that definition is available for people to see, and its clinical basis.


JOURNALIST: I just wanted to check then, so Queensland will continue to use its definition of 28 days of no community transmission before it opens up to those states?

MORRISON: Queensland will use, sorry?

JOURNALIST: So what do you think of that definition, is it reasonable?

MORRISON: Well the Commonwealth definition is the one that I clearly believe, is backed by the clinical and scientific work that’s been done by the Acting Chief Medical Officer. That’s the view of the Commonwealth. The definition that we have provided is obviously the one that I think is appropriate. What states do is a matter for them ultimately but what we have agreed to do today is to actually move to a hotspot model. So we don’t have a hotspot model working necessarily in Queensland at the moment. We’ve got a very hard border which is operating in Queensland at the moment and so what we have agreed to do is to move towards and adopt a hotspot model with as far as possible a common definition and the Commonwealth definition provides the starting point for how that is defined.

JOURNALIST: Just a question on tax and then I think Clare’s going to follow up on farmers and Queensland. There’s obviously a discussion at the moment about bringing forward the stage 2 tax cuts but of course under the stage 3 tax cuts, high income earners such as yourself will get an $11,000 a year tax cut while low income people will get $255 dollars a year. Now as part of those discussions to bring forward the stage 2 tax cuts, do you think you should give up some of that tax cut and if not why should someone such as yourself get $11,000 in tax cuts while low income and part-time workers get $255 a year under those changes?

MORRISON: Well Sam you made a range of speculative… no I understand what the current legislative program is and that is the legislative programme, and any changes we might make to that will be announced in the Budget, and that’s in October.


JOURNALIST: Professor Kelly, in your medical opinion, is it safe for a farmer in NSW to go over the border and work in Queensland? Is it ok?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, ACTING CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So as, several questions have come to this already and the Prime Minister has answered them really. We’ve got a start of a hotspot definition we’ve,

JOURNALIST: In your medical opinion though?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, ACTING CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So that is what we are working on so we can get that absolute clarity about these sort of particular matters. At this point, Queensland has made their decision about how they look at risk in terms of people coming across the border and that is their decision to make and we’ll continue to work on that.

MORRISON: Before you shout over the top of him, you might let him finish his answer. Professor Kelly?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, ACTING CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, Prime Minister. So we look forward to the day where there can be transparency about these things and a risk-based approach to what should happen. And part of that is the hotspot definition but part of that is also an understanding across borders that we can be absolutely sure of the information that is held on one side of the border and can be shared with the other. That is absolutely crucial.

JOURNALIST: This was a year started with bushfires, a deadly pandemic and now you’re being briefed on La Niña. What is the Australian plan for dealing with those weather events and how much more can Australians take?

MORRISON: This is why Emergency Management Australian is pulling all the states and territories together. They have quite detailed plans, as do the states and territories and the La Niña event will see a much greater rainfall over the summer period and that will put a lot of stress, particularly with as the soil moisture increases, then that obviously creates the risk of flooding across south eastern Australia and in north eastern Australia. The risk of cyclones also. But we also learned today was that the bushfire risk in south west Western Australia and in northern Australia is also related to these events. Now, for things like cyclones and floods, most of that response, if not all is largely contained within those states and territories and they are well equipped to deal with those issues and they have the resources and they are the first responders both for dealing with those events and the immediate recovery and aftermath of those events. We have the DRFA arrangements for emergency support and so on and that will be rolled out as it always is. But they are making their own plans and already have those in place to ensure that they can respond to those quite specific events. Now, one of the challenges going into this season is ensuring they have COVID-safe emergency response measures and that’s why, particularly with a situation like bushfires in Western Australia, if we have to move people from one part of the country to another, ADF personnel or others then we need to have quite streamlined arrangements and that’s what the EMA is doing right now to make sure that is the case but these disasters, whether they are bushfires or whether they are floods or whether they are cyclones or indeed pandemics for that matter, they present challenges to us every year and I believe we have the best people to respond to those challenges. They’re very well aware of what’s coming up this year and the plans and preparations are already in place. Thanks, everyone.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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