ANNA CESARANO, CEO DOLTONE HOUSE GROUP: I’m delighted to welcome our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Minister Cash today at Doltone House. We really are celebrating the industry and the road to recovery for hospitality and what a day it has been. Getting our hands into some dough, making some pasta, and a reflection of our commitment to rebuilding hospitality and the industry sector. So welcome thank you. The apprenticeship program has been very significant for us to date. It’s been a challenging year, one that has sort of, as we all know with COVID, we now have an opportunity to further be supported by this Government. JobKeeper has been monumental for our survival and now as we build, family business is all about tenure. But now we have the ability to retain the talent of apprentices to our industry and I’m delighted by that. So thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much, Anna. I’m delighted to be here with Anna and Paul Cesarano. They run, together, a great Australian family business with the Doltone Group and it is great to be here with Minister Cash. Their father stepped off a migrant ship just over here in 1954. And built, starting from a small grocery shop, and built it into this amazing venue business. Starting out in my own electorate in the Sutherland Shire and then reaching across the city. There are few people in Sydney, I think, who haven't found themselves in the business community of this great city at an event that has been looked after by the Doltone Group. So it is quite fitting to be here with a small family business, getting bigger and bigger by the day, though, Paul, that has gone through a really tough year. An industry in hospitality that has been under the pump during COVID-19. But what has been so impressive is how that business has held together through COVID-19, and it's businesses like the Doltone Group, in the hospitality industry, and in so many other industries across Australia, which are the reason why Australia is leading the world out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the COVID-19 global recession. Australia is leading the world. And one of the ways we've been able to do that is, of course, the resilience of these amazing businesses to push through and hold their staff together and maintain the capacity of their businesses for when the recovery comes. And they haven't done that alone. They've done that with significant support, whether it's through JobKeeper, which has been a lifeline to businesses like the Doltone Group and so many others around the country.
One of the first things we did as a Government as we went into the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the first items in our first package of support to the COVID-19 pandemic, was to ensure that we kept apprentices in their jobs. They would have been the first off. They would have been the first to be casualties, economically, over the COVID-19 pandemic. They had made a decision to go and get trained, to put in the hard yards over four years and establish a career for themselves and get the skills that are so needed in the many industries where apprentices go. So they made that commitment and we decided to commit to them to ensure that they could stay in those apprenticeships throughout the course of the pandemic. So the apprenticeship program has kept 122,000 apprentices in their jobs, just like those we've met here this morning. But whether it's in a hospitality business like this, or it's on the tools in a toolmaking shop, or it's out on a building site, or wherever I have met these apprentices over the course of these last many months, I have seen them stay in their jobs, stay in their training, stay in their study, and now, as the economy recovers, they are seeing further opportunities ahead of them.
So our way out of the COVID-19 recession is to keep investing in these skills and ensuring that we're bringing more and more people into these industries to meet the country's challenging workforce needs into the future. The Supporting Apprenticeships Program in the second iteration was all about getting new apprentices. 100,000 apprentices, new apprentices, already secured in just five months. And so, today, we're announcing that we're removing the caps on this program. We're extending it out until the end of September of this year, a full 12 months of support for these new apprentices coming on board. So that means anyone who is looking to get into an apprenticeship, and anyone who needs an apprentice as they're recovering from the COVID-19 recession, this says that our Government is going to carry that with you. And we're going to get that person into a job. And those people aren't just young people. About a third of those who have come into this program have been aged over the age of 35. I've met plenty of people around this country who have changed course during the COVID-19 pandemic. They've been working in one sector and now they're working in another sector. They might have been working in hospitality and now they're working in manufacturing. Or indeed, the other way around. And that's what this program is designed to support - people to make decisions so they can get through and come out the other side of the COVID-19 recession.
So, we are thrilled to be here today, Paul and Anna. We're pleased to be supporting you and what you're doing and your family business, and we're pleased to be doing that for businesses all around the country. And we know for those who are looking to take on those apprenticeships, for those parents who, through the course of the COVID-19 recession, were worried about; where are my kids going to get that job? where are they going to get that training? Where is their future going to be on the other side of COVID-19? Well, our answer - we're delivering today, once more. $1.2 billion of estimated additional support. We think it will generate at least another 70,000 new apprenticeships, but I suspect it will do better than that, as we've seen with other programs exceed our expectations, like HomeBuilder and others. 100,000 in just five months.
I’m going to ask Minister Cash who has been critical for this program right from the outset to talk you through the details.
MICHAELIA CASH: Thank you, Prime Minister, and it really is fantastic to join the Prime Minister here today at an iconic business Doltone House with Paul and Anna, a great family business here in Sydney. And the Morrison Government, we back family businesses, just like Paul and Anna's, every step of the way. The Prime Minister has openly stated that he has put skills at the heart of Australia's economic recovery. And when COVID-19 first hit in Australia, one of the first policy measures we put in place was to ensure that our apprentices and our trainees remained on the job where we needed them. And we put in place the supporting apprentice and trainee wage subsidy. As the Prime Minister has said, to date, over 122,000 apprentices and trainees have been supported by that wage subsidy, and that doesn't include those that have been supported by JobKeeper. That's exactly where we needed these apprentices and trainees - on the job, doing what we need them to do. Helping to build Australia. But we also understand, as a Government, that as we come out of COVID-19, and as Anna said, we enter that recovery phase. We need to put in place the policies to ensure that businesses out there, small, medium and large businesses of any size, are now able to bring additional people into their businesses. And that is why last year, we announced the boosting apprenticeship commencement wage subsidy. We put in place a target for ourselves. It's a 50 per cent wage subsidy that we would create in around 12 months, 100,000 new commencements. We have now done that, and I'd like to thank all of the employers out there, because they are the ones who have taken on these additional apprentices into their businesses. Businesses like Doltone House here today.
Paul and Anna, the Prime Minister and I have had the opportunity to meet a number of apprentices, but in particular, one whose day, it is his first day on the job, making pasta with the Prime Minister. But brought on board into the business because of the boosting apprenticeship commencements wage subsidy. We've created 100,000 new commencements in less than five months. And that is why today, I am delighted to join the Prime Minister to announce that we are now removing the cap on the programme and we are extending it out so any business that signs up a new apprentice up until the 30th of September this year will now get a full 12 months of the 50 per cent wage subsidy. And for those businesses who did the right thing and they assisted us, getting those 100,000 new apprentices on the job, helping to boost those numbers, their apprenticeship wage subsidy will also be turned into a full 12-month wage subsidy. That's an additional $1.2 billion that the Morrison Government is investing in ensuring that we have that skilled pipeline to keep Australia going.
So today, $1.2 billion, 100,000 new apprenticeships commenced within five months. Today, we uncapped the programme so across Australia, any business, any size, any region, can now sign up apprentices until September 30th this year and get a 12-month wage subsidy, 50 per cent of the relevant apprentice's wage.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks. Let's deal with the announcement today and then we can deal with other matters as usual.
JOURNALIST: Is this in regards to only first year apprentices or second, third and fourth?
MICHAELIA CASH: If you are recommencing and lost your job, say as a result of COVID, and you need to recommence your apprenticeship, you're able to do that. And we've had around 9,000 do that under the programme. Anyone else on the apprentice announcement? It's a pretty good announcement.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can tell Australians, I am absolutely interested in creating jobs and my first job is to ensure that Australia continues to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and that we come out with the comeback from the COVID-19 recession. That's the focus of my Government. That's where Australians need my focus and that's where it will continue to be.
JOURNALIST: On other matters, have you spoken to Christian Porter in recent days? Do you know when he will be returning?
PRIME MINISTER: I have. I've spoken to Christian, as have many colleagues in providing their support. And at this stage, he hasn't advised the date he's returning. I don't anticipate him to be back in the Parliament next week. But he'll give me further updates as we go through the course of this week and we're making arrangements to ensure that next week in the Parliament, that his responsibilities are handled by other ministers.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe his denial? And if so, how does that fit with your statement in 2019 that people making sexual assault allegations need to be believed?
PRIME MINISTER: I believe in the presumption of innocence and the rule of law and he's entitled to that. And the competent and authorised agencies through the police and the court system, that's what determines these matters at the end of the day. And every Australian is entitled to that, whether they're a minister of the Government or anyone else in this country. There are not two rules. There are not two laws in this country. There are not two processes. There is one. And we're all subject to it. The Attorney-General has certainly been subject to that, and, of course, I believe in his presumption of innocence, and why wouldn't anyone on the basis of the proper process which has been followed?
JOURNALIST: Have you read the letter detailing the allegations since the question was last put to you? And if not, why not? Don't you want to know what the allegations are?
PRIME MINISTER: The actual formal documents provided to my office were provided on a Friday afternoon in Canberra when I was in Sydney. And so, those documents were immediately passed on to the Federal Police. So I was not in the same place as those documents. They were immediately provided to the Federal Police, as they should be, because they're the competent and authorised agency to deal with these matters. And I had been briefed on their contents earlier as a result of other documents that had come through a colleague, and they were the matters that I presented to the Attorney-General, which he completely rejected as false.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on another matter, the recovery which we've been talking about is going to be very dependent on the vaccines rolling out. Are you concerned at all about reports that the vaccines will not be administered in full dose by the states and territories, that there's not as much transparency around that as we might have seen? And are we still optimistic that everyone who wants the vaccine in Australia will be able to get one by October?
PRIME MINISTER: Really, in relation to the last question, yes, I am and that's the advice I have, too. We're in the early phases of the vaccination rollout. I think we're currently at about 84,000 vaccinations that have been completed. I said this morning, this week, we expect to go over the 100,000 mark. The other important point, as we've been able to secure the supply of the overseas produced vaccines, and that is enabling us to continue with the pace of our vaccination rollout. We will soon be at the stage where the Australian-produced vaccines will be coming off the production lines and hopefully we'll be seeing that heading out across the distribution network at a rate of about a million a week being produced. As you know, we have some 50 million vaccines being produced by CSL of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In the early phases of the rollout, as we anticipated, there are some early issues that have been quickly identified and resolved and I want to continue to assure Australians that the very confidently prepared plans, plans put together by Australia's expert medical professionals, led by Professor Brendan Murphy, working together with the other experts, including the Chief Medical Officer, deeply consulted through with the states and territories, is rolling out that vaccination strategy and it's a strategy that was pulled together last year and has been meticulously worked through even to now as we roll the vaccines out. So, yes, I do remain confident about that. That doesn't mean we won't hit some obstacles. It doesn't mean there won't be the odd frustration, the odd logistics issue that needs to be addressed. That's to be expected with a project of this scale. But I want to assure Australians that they can have confidence, A, that we've got the vaccines, B, that the vaccines are the best in the world, and that we'll be able to get them to everybody who wants to take them. And we, of course, are encouraging people to do that, according with the priorities that we have set.
JOURNALIST: What's your response to Julie Bishop's comments that a group of male politicians, calling themselves "The Big Swinging Dicks", tried to block her career aspirations?
PRIME MINISTER: I would agree with Julie Bishop that, if that were the case, they weren't very successful.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that's a sign of the cultural problems at Parliament House, given how recent that was? Are you concerned how far there is to go?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, as far as I'm aware - I didn't see the interview - but I understand she's referring to issues about a decade ago.
JOURNALIST: Should Australians be concerned that two of the eight members of the National Security Committee are currently on leave?
PRIME MINISTER: No, they shouldn't, because I have highly competent ministers that are taking over their duties in the meantime. I have a very accomplished legal professional in Michaelia Cash and a former Minister for Industrial Relations who is taking on the responsibilities of the Attorney. And I have absolute confidence in Michaelia. And as I said earlier today, Minister Cash has had quite a bit of experience getting important industrial relations legislation through the Parliament in the past. And in relation to the Defence portfolio, the Defence portfolio has been taken up in the time when the Minister, who was on leave because of physical health reasons, and quite serious ones, I should stress, as media would be aware. I mean, I have, at the Minister's permission, spoken to her doctor about this issue, and it is a serious issue. And so we are supporting her in getting the physical health treatment that she needs over this period the doctors have advised that she needs to take. And in the meantime, Minister Payne, who was the first-ever female Defence Minister in Australia, is taking on those responsibilities. She was, of course, very involved with all of the issues that we're currently dealing with in Defence. And I'm just very pleased that in the case where we've had two ministers who have had to stand down for health reasons, I can turn to two very good other female Cabinet ministers who can confidently take up their jobs. And, of course, as Prime Minister, I maintain a very close watch on all of these issues, chairing the National Security Committee, as you would expect me to do.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, it's been 50 days since we've had a COVID case here in New South Wales. On the weekend, about 30,000 people partied COVID-safely for Mardi Gras. Are you concerned that still for Anzac Day they’re saying still that only 500 veterans will be able to march in Sydney, and the veterans community is concerned they're not going to be able to march on Anzac Day with the numbers they'd like to be able to?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I am. I respect ultimately these are calls that have got to be made by state governments. But I want Anzac Day on. If people can party, and if people can protest, then we can remember as a nation, and honour our veterans on Anzac Day. And I would like to see that done as fully and as safely as possible and I think that is not beyond our wits to achieve that. Of course, last year Anzac Day was very different. Just as many things a year ago today were very different, it was a very solemn occasion. And despite the fact we couldn't gather together at Remembrance Services, standing at the end of our driveways, and that was, I think, a very poignant moment as we remembered the great Anzac spirit and the great sacrifice of so many. But this year I would like to see us return to normal as much as we possibly can, and so we can gather together and honour our Anzacs.
JOURNALIST: Just on Christian Porter, have you, or will you, speak to the Solicitor-General about the allegations? And, if not, why not?
PRIME MINISTER: Because there is not a separate legal process that applies to the Attorney-General or anyone else. There's only one rule of law here. And I'm standing firm on that principle of the rule of law. I'm not going to indulge in other extrajudicial processes that suggest that one Australian is subject to a different legal process to any other Australian. If we do that, we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law in this country. So, there are not two laws in this country and I won't allow that to be eroded. Thanks very much.