MR STEPHEN PEWTRESS, MANAGING DIRECTOR, KOR EQUIPMENT SOLUTIONS: Well, ladies and gentlemen, thanks so much for your patience. It's been a great privilege to host our Prime Minister and Minister Robert. And of course, it gives me a great privilege to introduce our local member and the wonderful community person who I’ve got to know over the extended period of time, the Member for Chisholm, Ms Gladys Liu. Thank you so much, Gladys.
MS GLADYS LIU MP, MEMBER FOR CHISHOLM: Thank you. Well, thank you very much and welcome to Chisholm. And I want to thank Stephen for having us here today. And this part of Mulgrave is actually a new addition to my electorate. And many locals and local businesses have told me that they have been neglected by previous Labor representatives. Today we have the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. We have Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Minister Stuart Robert here to make an announcement of a very important thing to all of us, and that is job and job training. It is obviously important to young people, but, equally, it is important to those like me who put aside a career and want to come back. Those women, especially single mothers, who want to come back into the workforce, and JobTrainer will be able to help them to reskill, upskill and also be able to get a job that is higher value and higher pay. And, of course, whether you are from an Indigenous background, whether you are from a family have been here for generations, or you are a migrant, this is important to help you to get into the workforce. I will leave the national positive impact of this program to the Minister and Prime Minister. But I can tell you, in Chisholm, we have benefited from this program - 835 traineeships in Chisholm alone. So I want to say to everyone in Chisholm, I will continue to work with you and listen to you and to bring a better future in Chisholm and Australia. Thank you.
THE HON. STUART ROBERT MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT, WORKFORCE, SKILLS, SMALL AND FAMILY BUSINESS: Great to be here with Gladys and the Prime Minister. Steve, thanks for opening your doors at a great local business here. To see the same 58 staff, but he wants to grow to 100 staff by the end of the year. That's 42 extra staff you're going to need, Steve. And luckily the Morrison Government has got the program in place to ensure that skilled staff can be delivered. $7.1 billion in terms of Morrison Government expenditure on skills and training coming forward, the highest number seen in our nation's history. Over 460,000 in the $2 billion JobTrainer program, on top of the Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements that has seen 27 per cent of Australian businesses take on an apprentice or a traineeship. We've seen completions of those apprenticeships and traineeships up by 21 per cent, an extraordinary renaissance in training, and it's all designed to turbocharge our COVID recovery as a skills and jobs recovery, and Steve, it’s designed to get you those 42 staff you need who are well-trained. And that's the great thing about the skilling agenda we've got.
On top of that, of course, the Morrison Government continues to have a strong education agenda, and as the acting Education Minister, I'll be convening my Ministerial colleagues in an hour or so to work through our discussions on the national curriculum, and where we head from that we'll have more to say about after Education Ministers meet this afternoon.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Stuart. Steve, thanks for having us here and to all of your [inaudible] staff who are here, it's been great to meet you, and I'm pleased to see so many of you. If I was here a year or two ago, there’d be few of you. If I’m back here again in a year from now, I'm sure there’d be even more of you here then, because of the great success of this business, Steve. So, mate, thanks for your leadership of what is a a very energised team who's been really pressing ahead and pushing through during the course of this pandemic.
Gladys, thank you for your tireless work here in Melbourne, particularly here in the electorate of Chisholm, here in Mulgrave today. Gladys’ background really does lend herself well to supporting small and medium-sized businesses. This is a business now of around a hundred million in turnover and they continue to grow. And, so, whether it's businesses like this or small, sole operators right across this electorate, Gladys is someone who particularly understands that. And I know there's one thing that Gladys is probably more excited about than anything else. And that is, since we were first elected, there are a million more women in work today than before, and that is an extraordinary thing to see happen in Australia. A million more women in work. And, so, and we want to see that continue. Workforce participation amongst women in this country has been rising. It will continue to rise. And one of the things that will make sure it does that is the skills and the training that is being provided.
As Gladys said, I’ve moved around this country. I've met women who are working in hospitality industry, in health care industry, and they’re now working in the resources industry, they’re working in the construction industry. And I've seen it go the other way as well. And what that means is as our lives change over the course of our lives, the demands on us change and people need to often change careers. And for them to be able to do that and have the choices that they want for them and their families, then training is incredibly important.
In the pandemic, one of the most important decisions we made early on, in addition to JobKeeper, in addition to the Boosting Apprenticeship scheme, which means that today we have 220,000 apprentices in trade training, like the young women I saw earlier today up at Mount Eliza - three young women who were doing their hairdresser’s apprenticeship. Like them, or many apprentices all around the country on the tools, that is the highest number of apprentices in trade training in Australia's recorded economic history, going back to 1963. So this is a government, my Government, our Government, that is ensuring that dealing with the skills and training needs of our workforce, it's at the top of our economic reform agenda.
There are five parts to that agenda - getting taxes low, ensuring that we're cutting red tape for small business. Secondly, it's about investing in the skills and the infrastructure and growing a workforce to meet the growing needs of our economy. It's about reliable, affordable energy, thirdly - getting those electricity prices down, which are down eight per cent in the last two years for households, as well as ensuring the feedstock that goes in and gas to our manufacturing enterprises is at the lowest level it possibly can be. So they have the reliable, affordable energy they need to grow their businesses, while at the same time, reducing emissions that are down more than 20 per cent on our 2005 levels in 2020, meeting all of our emissions reduction targets. It's about being a top 10, fourthly, a top 10 data and digital economy in the world by 2030. And we have seen how businesses have exploded in terms of their embracing of digital technologies and data usage to run their businesses. And fifthly, it's about manufacturing enterprises and our sovereign capability.
That is the economic plan that is driving Australia's unemployment rate to below four per cent. That is the economic plan that has ensured we've been able to maintain our AAA credit rating, one of only nine countries in the world to do so, particularly during the course of this pandemic. That is the economic plan that is taking us forward to see more jobs and more investment backed up by investment allowances and research and development tax concessions, that is enabling businesses to find new solutions. The investments we're making in universities to connect with businesses, for new products, new ideas, which means new jobs.
But the second point I talked about was training. There are 317,000 places that have been taken up as part of the JobTrainer program. The JobTrainer program was led by our Government, funded 50-50. We put the money on the table for a $1 billion program to ensure that during the pandemic we got our people into training, and we took the opportunity that was there to train people during the pandemic to ensure they had the skills, so the businesses could be ready as the economy emerged on the other side. We pulled the premiers and chief ministers together through the National Cabinet. We agreed it in a fortnight. We moved with that urgency that was necessary and that built on the first initiative we undertook when the pandemic hit, was to give apprentices the opportunity to stay in their businesses.
And as I go around the country, two years on from those decisions, I'm seeing those apprentices who would have otherwise lose their jobs, finishing their apprenticeships, moving on into the full-time employment in their companies. The others who just had started are now halfway through. And it's a great thrill to see that. Nothing puts a bigger smile on my Government’s face than seeing a young person in work, because it transforms their life. We're seeing that here, we're seeing it all around the country. Australia has one of the strongest economies coming through the pandemic in the world.
Another big workforce challenge that we have is in the aged care sector, and this is a incredibly complex and difficult challenge. Our aged care sector, as we've moved through this pandemic, has been the most vulnerable. Our most vulnerable Australians live in the aged care sector. All of us, I'm sure, have had some type of experience, perhaps, with loved ones who are cared for in those facilities. We've been through several waves of this pandemic now, and as it's reached into our aged care centres, then we have seen the terrible results for those who have lost their lives. Now, it is true, one of the, one of the home truths of many aged care facilities, that people who are in care there, many of them are in end of life care, and 61 per cent of those who we’ve lost during the course of this pandemic were in end of life care, in palliative care. And the balance also, as you'd expect in aged care facilities, have many other health conditions, and they’ve had COVID when they’ve died, and they are terribly lost, they are lost terribly to their families and our communities.
As a Government we’ve been doing everything we possibly can to mitigate and prevent the terrible impacts of the pandemic in our aged care facilities. It has been a challenge all over the world. The rate of outbreaks in our aged care facilities that we're seeing here in Australia, in Canada - 13 times greater. I remember when the second wave hit in Victoria here back in 2020, and we lost 680 people over the course of that second wave. The rate of infections in UK’s aged care centres was eight times greater, and that was at a time when we didn't have vaccines. So Australian aged care facilities, their their workers, those who are running those centres, are doing an extraordinary job under the most difficult circumstances you can imagine. We have put some eight million rapid antigen tests now, two million going in a week now, into those aged care facilities, each and every week, to support them in managing their workforce. We changed the rules back at the end of last year, early this year, to ensure that close contacts could go back to work. And so the aged care workers now who can't go to work have COVID, and that was inevitable that we would see people contract COVID and that would prevent them from going to work.
There are no easy solutions to this. You keep producing the personal protective equipment that's being distributed, the Defences Forces are assisting with that and assisting with many other tasks in in relation to the pandemic. We've got surge workforces, which has covered some 78,000 or thereabout shifts over the course of the pandemic, drawing in workforce from the private hospitals and and private providers to support the workforce when it unfortunately has to be furloughed. So there’s no simple answers. This is not a pandemic that does not have impacts, and anyone who wants to suggest that, particularly for aged care, doesn't understand this pandemic.
And I want to thank everybody for the incredible work they're doing to keep those in our care in the best possible care we can provide in a crisis, in a, in a situation of this nature. Now, you heard me say crisis. And I know for many Australians, that's how it feels. I can tell you, that's how it feels for us. But what is more important is that we understand this is the function of a lot of pressure on the system, and pressure on a system can produce that result. But what I do know is, despite the terrible challenges we're facing in aged care, that the Australian aged care sector is doing everything they possibly can and is doing better than so many other countries, just like Australia or anywhere in the world. I know that's not a comfort to those who have those in aged care, but at the same time, it is the fact that we will continue doing everything we can.
Now, I asked the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Health and Aged Care to work together to further progress plans that could see how the Defence Forces can further support. And when I discussed this with the Vice Chief of the Defence Forces some weeks ago, and they’ve been working on that since that time, and they've already been deploying. They've been deployed here, for example, to support more general health duties in the ambulance service. And we've got Australian public servants working on the 000 centres down here in Victoria and providing that support to where it's needed. The Defence Forces is not a shadow workforce for the aged care sector. We've got some 60,000 members in our Defence Force. Half of those are in the Reserves. And to the extent that they work in the health sector, they're already working in the health sector. So simply taking Reserves out of where they're working, putting a uniform on them and getting them somewhere else, that doesn't change anything. And so we also have our medical people in our Defence Forces supporting our Defence Forces. And if we move all of them, then the Defence Forces will be coming to our hospitals and our GP clinics and all of those places.
So there are plenty who put up simple solutions to complex problems. But when you're the Government, when you're the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Minister for Defence, you have to deal with practical options that work. So we will keep working with the industry. Our Ministers are working closely with the industry. We will keep getting that PPE out there, we’ll keep getting the rapid antigen tests out there. We will keep supporting them with the surge workforce, the additional payments to keep the staff there. This is an urgent workforce need, not just, not just for now, but well into the future as well.
And I know that’s a very serious topic to also raise with you today, in in terms of the other matters we're talking about, trainees. But let me finish on a lighter note and say well done to our Women’s Ashes team. Fantastic job. Ok, happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why should the Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck remain in his job?
PRIME MINISTER: It's very important over the course of the pandemic that all of the interactions that we're having with the aged care sector continue. And one of Richard's most important jobs, and I was just speaking to him again today as I do regularly, is he has, even as recently as yesterday afternoon, has been in constant contact with the aged care sector to understand their needs, to be relaying them through to the Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt, myself and the rest of the national security team that has been working to address these issues in the Department of Health. He's been doing that now over the course of this pandemic. The lessons and the experience that is gained and the corporate knowledge of understanding all the challenges we've been through is very important for how we continue to manage this into the future. And my team, as we continue to work together, needs to keep focused on that task. So I understand those who are seeking to make political points about this in the lead up to an election. And that's not going to help anybody or help us continue to do the very important job of trying to provide every support we can to residents who are in aged care.
JOURNALIST: Do you know how many residents in aged care died in January?
PRIME MINISTER: Ah, well, I can tell you how many have died since Omicron came, and it’s about 560. And I can tell you how many residents died in the first, second wave that came through in Victoria, and that was six, just over 680.
JOURNALIST: But specifically in January this year, do you know nationally how many aged care residents have died?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, from memory, I think it was about 520.
JOURNALIST: When will the Government respond to the Vivienne Thom report into the allegations against Alan Tudge, given that they were due January the 28th?
PRIME MINISTER: We’re working through those processes now.
JOURNALIST: And will Alan Tudge be Education Minister when Parliament returns on Tuesday?
PRIME MINISTER: We won't have those processes resolved by that time.
JOURNALIST: Some people in aged care can't even have showers. Today you were washing people’s hair.. Can you see that that may be a bit of an insult to some people?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, this morning I was talking about young people in jobs, and there's nothing more important than getting young people into jobs, and I I know grandparents would feel the same way about that. And that's what we were highlighting today. One of the difficult challenges in a pandemic in the aged care sector is when you have a situation where you have, you’re managing isolation to try and constrain the virus in a particular facility, but also ensuring a quality of life for people can maintain contact. And to support that, the workforce needs to be there. Now not anyone can walk in and shower and clean and do those important jobs. They’re skilled jobs and they can't be done by just anyone just walking off the street. And so the workforce impacts of this pandemic are real, and there is not some imaginary workforce that can just come in when the workforce is furloughed by people getting COVID. COVID is not an impact free pandemic. It is not. And we have to deal with the reality of that. I understand that frustration as well as anyone. And so we can't kid ourselves that the COVID pandemic doesn't have the ability to reach into every single corner of this country. It does, whether it's our aged care facilities, our hospitals, our Indigenous communities, wherever it is it can get to, and particularly when we have such a virulent strain of the Omicron strain, which is so readily transmissible. But the changes we've made, we’ve made to ensure that we can do everything we can to mitigate the impact.
JOURNALIST: The other day you said you hadn’t always gotten everything right. Do you think regarding the management of aged care during COVID is something you got wrong?
PRIME MINISTER: I I set out in my speech the other day one of the key issues we we faced here in Victoria, and one of those issues was the interface between the public hospital system and aged care. And those lines were very blurry in terms of how we could transfer patients out of residential aged care into public hospital facilities. One of the other issues which we have learnt from, together with the State Government here, was the mass clear out of staff in aged care centres. I mean, in the, in the around a dozen aged care facilities that were most impacted, like St Basil’s and others here in Victoria at that time, what we were confronted with was the immediate withdrawal of all staff, all staff, and so we had to respond very quickly, and did. And that was done particularly through the Defence Forces. And it's that type of more targeted approach that the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Minister for Defence are still working through, as to how our Defence Forces can lean in and provide that supplementary support in those more critical situations. And that's one of the pieces of feedback that the industry has been providing us back through Minister Colbeck. And that is, while we're out there doing everything we can to meet those additional workforce requests and seeking to meet them wherever we can and we're making, we’re making progress on that. And but, you know, we don't have infinite people to meet those needs. At the same time, there is the need for very short-term deployments, which can alleviate a short-term issue, that enables them to get to the next stage when the staff can come back. So of course there's been many lessons over the course of management of aged care. As I said before, the UK had eight times the rate of infections in their aged care facilities as Australia did. We’re seeing 13 times the number of outbreaks, or thereabouts, in Canada, than in Australia. And so the pandemic’s tough. It has a terrible impact on aged care. But Australia is managing this better than most countries in the world.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, [inaudible] moderates want the amendments made to the Sex Discrimination Act at the same time as the introduction of the Religious Discrimination Bill. Will that happen?
PRIME MINISTER: That's my intention, yes.
JOURNALIST: Will that happen before the election?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Have you only backed Mark McGowan’s hard border remaining in place because it's popular locally there, and what do you say to the thousands of families still separated here on the east coast?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I feel for those families, terrible, I know many of them myself personally, and the border closures, whether they’ve been in Western Australia or elsewhere around the country, over the course of the pandemic, have caused terrible hardship. There's no doubt about that. And I'm looking forward to the time when the Western Australian border will be safely open again. But when the Western Australian Government makes a decision not to reopen that border because of their concerns about how it will impact their hospital system and the state of readiness for that, then I can absolutely understand the decision of the Premier, as to why Mark McGowan then wouldn't be opening the border when he would have concerns about whether his health system was ready to deal with the Omicron strain. I mean, Mark has sat around that National Cabinet table on the same 65 occasions or thereabouts as I have. And he has seen and listened, sorry, heard and listened to the experience of his colleagues on the east coast states. And so he knows that the Omicron variant, once it gets running, can have a very serious impact. So if he, as he clearly must, doesn't believe his health system is ready to absorb that at this point, then we will continue to give him every support to ensure that's the case.
And, secondly, it's very important that when Western Australia moves into that role, that Delta rules don't work for the Omicron variant. We've learnt that here, we were just talking about it before, and that is, if you have furloughing rules for close contacts that run for 14 days and things like that, which is what you used to do in Delta, you do that in Omicron and you will shut your health system down, you will shut your industry down, you will shut the mines down and you will shut down the economy. And I have no doubt that the Premier is seeking to avoid that. And it's very important that they adjust their rules for the Omicron variant and not continue to run the rules for Delta. Because in that situation, as I said yesterday, you could find yourself with the management of the pandemic being worse than the pandemic itself.
JOURNALIST: If Western Australia has to learn to live with COVID, how is that living with COVID? And are you just backing it because that’s a popular policy among West Australians?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I think I set out very clearly why I was backing it. I'm backing it because the Premier believes that if he were to take that step at this point, the Omicron variant would be at great risk of overwhelming their health system. And so that is their view about what that risk is. I'm pleased that in Western Australia the rate of booster doses is equivalent with the rest of the country. That wasn't the case as we moved through the first two doses. This time around, Western Australia is keeping up with the rest of the country on their booster dose, and I think that's terrific. So, you know, the Western Australian Government is working to get themselves in a position where those borders can open, and it's important to have a plan to do that because we want to see the country open again. The Western Australian economy needs it and Western Australians need it, but they also want it to be done safely. And that's why I I understand and support the decision he believes he had to make, and he will make the decision about when that border should open. Living with the virus means being able to live with the virus, and being able to live with the virus means that your hospital system can cope. We've seen the hospital system in Victoria and New South Wales and in Queensland, for that matter, and South Australia, come under a lot of pressure, but they've been able to push through, and the Western Australian Premier would need to be feeling as confident as that as as the other premiers have been.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is it fair and proportionate …
PRIME MINISTER: I couldn’t hear you, sorry.
JOURNALIST: Is it fair and proportionate for the Treasurer’s lawyers to bankrupt the man who challenged his citizenship, Josh Frydenberg’s citizenship?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, the matter was before the courts and and orders were given. That, it's as simple as that. I mean, that was a court case which was about trying to prevent the Treasurer from being able to stand for Parliament and serve in our country’s Parliament, and he defended that and the court processes have applied. That’s that's the rule.
JOURNALIST: Is it a fair and proportionate response, though?
PRIME MINISTER: I think the rule of law is fair in this country and the rule of law has been applied, and we all depend on the rule of law and there are no exceptions to it. And, as a result, where the rule of law has been applied with those orders, then people should expect them to be followed through and complied with. I think that’s, that's that's the fair way in Australia. It's fair that the rule of law applies to everybody.
JOURNALIST: Just quickly, the Queensland Deputy Premier’s hit out at your decision to wash hair this morning and not volunteer at an aged care home instead. Do you have a response to this?
PRIME MINISTER: I, no I don’t feel the need to to respond to political attacks from from the Queensland Deputy Premier. I'm fairly used to them.
JOURNALIST: And can I just quickly ask, Peter Dutton revealed on 7.30 last night, at the beginning of the pandemic the Government was considering deploying the Army to turn people away from hospitals. Were you seriously prepared to do this and why?
PRIME MINISTER: At the beginning of the pandemic, we were staring into the abyss and we had to consider every single contingency. But what then he went on to say is that the actions that our Government took, and Steve knows all about this, the actions we took have saved businesses from bankruptcy, it saved Australians from losing their jobs, from losing their homes. It saved 40,000 lives. That was the difference. We were looking at the start of this pandemic into a horror scenario that no one could imagine. Any number of possibilities were out there. No one understood what the virus was or how it impact, how deadly it would be. And as we are here now, two years later, we have saved 40,000 lives. We have ensured that we have one of the strongest economies anywhere in the advanced world, and, thirdly, one of the highest rates of vaccination. And when you look at those big ticket items, Australia's management of the pandemic measures up extremely well to other countries, and that doesn't mean it hasn't been tough. It's been extremely tough. But I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else than here in Australia, as we've gone through this pandemic. Thanks everyone. Thank you very much.