Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Thursday, 26 March 2020
MATHIAS CORMANN: Governments around Australia, State and Federal, are working very hard to protect people’s health, to save lives, but also to provide appropriate support to our economy, protect jobs, ensure that as many businesses as possible stay in business, as many Australians as possible stay in jobs. That will continue to be our focus moving forward.
We have made a whole series of decisions so far. We continue to make decisions prioritising the protection of people’s health, saving lives, while making sure that we also keep the economy in the best, least bad shape possible through this period pending the strong recovery on the other side.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Minister on the issue of the jobseeker payments, since we are talking about jobs, is the Government considering lifting the income test for someone’s partner when they lose their job?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Parliament on Monday when we met gave the Minister for Families and Social Services the power to make further adjustments to the income support payments that we legislated. We effectively doubled the jobseeker payment for those Australians who have lost their job. We will continue to assess all of the options. As soon as relevant decisions are made we will announce them.
QUESTION: Many Australian businesses say they are still going to go broke with this stimulus. Would a wage guarantee have been a better way?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The advice in front of us was that that was not the best way in an Australian context, because as it is, it takes some time to get all of this additional support into the system. Doing it the way that we have through the existing jobseeker payment framework was the fastest way to provide the necessary support to those Australians who through no fault of their own are losing their job because of the economic impact of the coronavirus.
QUESTION: But are there any other further measures that you are concentrating or that is going to be announced to prevent these businesses from going under?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have always said that our approach to this will be scalable. We will continue to assess what is an evolving situation still. We will continue to make judgements on how the support packages that are already out there can be further improved. Of course we will continue to make judgements. That’s … interrupted
QUESTION: What would that look like though? Give some of these business owners some hope today?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate. We have been very candid with the Australian people. Sadly in the circumstances we are in businesses will close and Australians will lose their job. We have provided significant support to eligible businesses around Australia. About 700,000 odd small and medium sized businesses, about 30,000 not for profit organisations who are getting cash payments of up to $100,000 from the Commonwealth. That is significant and unprecedented support. But yes we are continuing to consider what other sensible and appropriate things we can do to support business.
QUESTION: Is the airline industry a possibility for further support? And what form could that take?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not going to speculate about what more we may be able to do in that space in the future.
QUESTION: Is the Government considering a moratorium on evictions, following the lead of other countries around the world?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tenancies are a matter that in Australia are regulated at a State level. This is a matter that through the National Cabinet, the Prime Minister and Premiers and Chief Ministers have turned their mind to. I would expect that there would be announcements in relation to this in the not too distant future.
QUESTION: The increase in Newstart payments, the bonus payment isn’t scheduled to come into place until April 27. Isn’t that extra month enough time to design an alternate mechanism for delivering this support?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is not the advice in front of us. The advice in front of us, this is the point that I made earlier, even using the existing system and the existing processes and existing programs, this is the amount of time it takes to be able to get this level of additional support into the community. So if we actually completely changed the architecture and the system that would make it much more difficult to get the necessary support into the community.
QUESTION: Minister, every time you try to get a stranglehold on this virus, it is deliberately choking the nation’s economy. Can you put into words the impact that this is having on Australians and Australian households and businesses and society?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are in a very difficult, very challenging situation. There is no question. We are focused on protecting people’s health. We are focused on slowing down the spread of the virus to save lives because we want to ensure that our health system is able to manage the increased demand that is coming its way. We have significantly boosted resources for our health system to help deal with the expected surge in demand. But nevertheless, we need to continue to make efforts to slow the spread of the virus to save lives. In doing that, inevitably, we have had to make difficult decisions, regrettable decisions, but necessary decisions to limit the level of activity in certain areas based on medical advice. That is what we continue to do. We continue to balance very difficult, competing priorities trying to make the best possible judgements in the national interest.
QUESTION: Labor has been quite critical of the Government’s response. Are you concerned that they are politicising the pandemic?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Federal Government is working together very well with State and Territory governments, including State Labor governments, who are all working very hard to protect people’s health, save lives and to provide the appropriate supports to our economy and jobs. Federal Labor’s approach sadly has been becoming more unhelpful. That is regrettable. Things are tough enough out there without political commentary undermining the medical advice suggesting that we should close down even more businesses where the medical advice does not suggest we should. We are never going to close down businesses based on political decisions. If there is a decision to close down certain sectors in the economy, it is going to be because the medical advice clearly and unequivocally indicates that that is required to protect people’s health and to save lives.
QUESTION: Minister, will the Government release that medical advice? The Academy of Sciences is asking for that.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are dealing through the National Security Committee, COVID-19 taskforce and through the national cabinet with all of these matters in the appropriate way. These are questions for others to answer.
QUESTION: Is that an admission now that we will not go into a total lockdown until the medical advice says that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: What I will say to you and what I think Australians would expect from us, is that we will not make decisions based on political considerations. We will make decisions based on what the experts advise based on the evidence and based on objective indications. Australians would not want us to gratuitously close down businesses in the absence of medical advice that that is what should happen. It is very disappointing, given we are all in this together that at this time, when the community actually needs the reassurance that everyone is pulling in the same direction that we get politically motivated commentary along the lines that we have seen.
QUESTION: Minister, wouldn’t we get more reassurance if we had that medical advice released to the public?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Again, I am not the Health Minister. I will leave these questions to the Health Minister.
QUESTION: Minister, just on the hairdressing issue, can you please explain why that rule was backtracked on just a couple of days after first instilling the 30-minute rule and can you appreciate that is causing a lot of confusion within people who think, how can I get my haircut from a two-metre distance?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do appreciate this. But Australians are common sense people. I think that Australians understand that we are not dealing with a perfect situation here. There was medical advice recommending a certain course of action. There was feedback in the aftermath. The national cabinet, based on the advice of relevant experts, reassessed the way this should be sensibly handled moving forward. The 30-minute restriction was removed, but the four square metre rule continues to be in place.
QUESTION: Just on the G20, there is a meeting tonight. How dire is the international situation at the moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is an incredibly grave international challenge. The spread of the coronavirus is accelerating in large parts of the world, in many parts of the world much faster and stronger than in Australia. Australia, comparatively speaking and given our comparative exposure to travellers from China, we are actually still in a comparatively early stage of the spread of the virus. It is a grave situation around the world, both from a health point of view as well as from an economic point of view.
QUESTION: What does Australia want to get out of the G20 meeting tonight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The G20 is a great forum to be able to swap experiences and swap notes on what works, what doesn’t work and what we might be able to learn from each other in terms of further improving our response based on international experiences.
QUESTION: Can I turn to the situation in your home state with the cruise ship that’s off shore there. What help is the Federal Government considering giving to the WA Government? Would that include opening up Christmas Island as a quarantine station?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Federal Government is working closely with the State Government. I have been in contact with the Premier and all of the relevant federal agencies are involved with officials back in Western Australia to resolve this issue as swiftly and as appropriately as possible.
QUESTION: What are the options you’re discussing can I ask?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As soon as all of the decisions are made, relevant announcements will be made.
QUESTION: Is Christmas Island a possibility for cruise ships?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to speculate on these sorts of things.
QUESTION: Could I ask, as the Finance Minister whether the Government is considering putting a financial contribution toward repatriating Australians who are still overseas?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made various efforts at various times to bring Australians back from overseas. We will continue to monitor the situation. If and as appropriate, relevant judgements will be made.
QUESTION: Is there a risk here, the Government has brought people back, you have made from them to come back and chartered airlines and so on. Why can people still overseas not expect that same treatment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This has been going for some time now. There are still commercial options available for people to come back. It gets more complex when you are dealing with potentially 160-odd different destinations or places of origin compared to just one location as was the case earlier in this period.
Thank you very much.