Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Saturday, 18 July 2020
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Government has received medical advice from the acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Kelly, in relation to the upcoming sitting of Parliament. Professor Kelly has advised us that there is significant risk in the Parliament convening given the increased community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria and also the trends in New South Wales.
As such, after consultations with the Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President in the Senate, the decision was made to cancel the next sitting fortnight of Parliament, so that Parliament will resume on 24 August instead.
It was not feasible to put sufficient measures in place to ensure that Parliament was able to meet safely in the circumstances. It was not appropriate to exclude entire States from representation in the national Parliament should the sitting have proceeded. In the circumstances, this is the best course of action.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Did you consider any other options? Like maybe virtual meeting instead?
MATHIAS CORMANN: A virtual meeting of our Federal Parliament is just not practical. The Speaker and the President of the Senate are both from Victoria. They would not have been available in the Parliament to preside over proceedings. In all of the circumstances really, the most practical option is to resume Parliamentary sittings on 24 August.
QUESTION: Is it contradictory of the PM to ask States to open up again but delay this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. In Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia there is essentially no community transmission at all. What you do need to do is take strong measures in relation to those areas where there are localised outbreaks. The Federal Parliament is an institution where Members and Senators from all around the country, including from those areas with significant localised outbreaks, come together. To bring people out of those areas with elevated community transmission into a central spot with Members and Senators from other parts of Australia and then send everybody back into their respective communities would not only present a significant risk to people in the ACT, it would also present a significant risk to people all around Australia. But there is absolutely no reason why people from Queensland or the Northern Territory, South Australia or Tasmania should not be able to travel to Western Australia, or for West Australians to travel to Queensland, because there is no community transmission in those jurisdictions.
QUESTION: Labor wants extra sitting day in September to make up for this. Is that something that you guys could see?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Right now we had to make a decision. We had to make sure that Members and Senators were aware of the intentions in relation to the 4 August sitting fortnight so that they can make relevant arrangements. If we had not made the announcement today, people would have started to make arrangements to quarantine and the like. These are things that will be able to be worked through. We have worked constructively with the Opposition. The Opposition has worked constructively with us through this period. We will continue to work through these matters as appropriate.
QUESTION: So is it possible that you might consider extra sittings.
MATHIAS CORMANN: These are not matters for today. We will continue to engage with the Opposition in relation to what we might be able to do on that front in the future.
QUESTION: Just on JobKeeper, will that be extended beyond September?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be releasing our economic statement on 23 July, this Thursday. We have said for some time that it is in the context of the economic statement that we will be making relevant announcements about the future arrangements for JobSeeker and JobKeeper. That is what we intend to do. We have also said that any extension of support will be based on assessed need. Not all businesses are in the same circumstance six months in. Some businesses have recovered quite strongly. Other businesses continue to face significant challenges. There will be appropriate support into the future, but it needs to be appropriately well targeted. These are the sorts of announcements that we will be making later this coming week.
QUESTION: So it is going to be case by case thing right?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We will be focused on making sure that support is provided to those businesses and those sectors of the economy who genuinely need it.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about what is happening in Victoria and New South Wales will have an effect on consumer confidence across the nation.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The increased infection rates across Victoria and the trend in New South Wales are having a negative impact on our economy, on confidence. That is why it is so important that we get on top of these outbreaks as soon as possible. We have to remain on top of the virus in those jurisdictions where we are. We have got to get on top of it as quickly as we can in those jurisdictions where we are not.
QUESTION: Do you think it will have an impact though? Do you think that people are hesitant at the minute?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It self-evidently will have an impact. It would be better if these outbreaks were not happening. We have always known though that there was a risk of outbreaks. We are giving ourselves the tools to get on top of these outbreaks as swiftly as possible. That is very important.
QUESTION: Are you able to give us an idea of how much extra support might be announced on Thursday and if there is legislation that is needed to be in place straight away, what does that mean for Parliament not sitting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The current JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements are running until the end of September. So there is still a while to go. In terms of the specifics of the announcements, I will leave that for the economic statement on Thursday.
QUESTION: But what about legislation?
MATHIAS CORMANN: As I have just said, the current JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements are running until the end of September. The Parliament is due to resume on 24 August, so there is some time for us to make necessary decisions.
Thank you very much