PM: Australia has reason to hope


Unions and business leaders will be given four months to work together and come up with ideas to create more jobs to haul Australia out of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the "first step" as Australia starts to reopen is to get "everyone back in the room".

"No one side has all the answers," he said.

"Employees or employers, unions or employer organisations.

"It is not beyond Australians to put aside differences to find cooperative solutions to specific problems - especially at a time like this."

Mr Morrison said the extent of the economic damage wrought by COVID-19 meant the policy priorities for recovery "will be different to those in place before the crisis".

"We now have a shared opportunity to fix systemic problems and to realise gains as a matter of urgency to get more people back into work," he said.

As a show of "good faith" to the unions Mr Morrison said the federal government would not seek to reintroduce its Ensuring Integrity Bill to parliament, which would have made it easier to deregister unions and ban officials.

He said Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney-General Christian Porter will immediately lead a new, "time-bound, dedicated process" bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to the table to chart "a job-making agenda".

"The minister will chair five working groups for discussion, negotiation, and hopefully agreement, to produce that JobMaker package."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: AAP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the National Press Club in Canberra. Picture: AAP

The JobMaker package will focus on: award simplification, Enterprise Agreement-making, casuals and fixed-term employees, compliance and enforcement.

"People should be paid properly. And, unions need to, obviously, do the right thing," Mr Morrison said.

"Membership of each (working) group will include employer and union representatives, as well as individuals chosen based on their demonstrated experience and expertise, and that will include - especially - small businesses, rural and regional operators, multicultural communities, women, families.

"This process, as I said, will be time-bound, and it is expected to run through to September.

"We must make the most of this time we have, and we must move quickly."

Mr Morrison said it would become apparent "very quickly" if progress is to be made.

"The working groups will either reach something approaching a consensus on issues, or they won't," he said.

"But we've got to give it a go.

"Participation in the groups is being invited without prejudice to their positions. Ultimately, it will be, though, the government that will take forward a job-making agenda from this process.

"The purpose is simple and honest - to explore and hopefully find a pathway to sensible, long-lasting reform, with just one goal - make jobs.

Mr Morrison told the National Press Club Australia has "reason to hope" post-coronavirus because it had handled the pandemic better than most in the world.

He thanked Australians "for the many sacrifices" made to get us to this point.

The prime minister said he had "good news" for Australians suffering under the COVID-19 shutdown, as the country now turns to economic recovery after successfully suppressing the disease.


Scott Morrison said funeral restrictions were one of the toughest decisions made. Picture: AAP
Scott Morrison said funeral restrictions were one of the toughest decisions made. Picture: AAP

"That is what millions of Australians are now relying on," he said.

"And there is reason to hope. Australia is weathering this storm better than many and better than most.

"Indeed, together, with a handful of nations, we have led the world in this response."

The prime minister said Australia's response has "followed a clear plan to save lives and to save livelihoods with strong and co-ordinated leadership across all governments, brought together through the innovation of the National Cabinet".

He also revealed almost 100,000 Australians had written to him in the past couple of months to share their personal experiences.

"So many have suffered and they continue to hurt, right here, and right now. Lost jobs, reduced hours, seeing their family businesses shut, having to close those doors, retirement incomes shrink, loved ones kept apart," he said.

"It has been a time of great uncertainty as Australians have had to come to terms with sudden and profound changes to their lives."

One of the hardest decisions he had to make was to impose restrictions at funerals, pointing to correspondence from Australians who had lost loved ones.

An emotional email from three children accepting their father's funeral needed to be a small gathering completely "floored" the Prime Minister, who has revealed some of the heartbreaking messages he has received from across Australia.

Anthony from Western Australia sent the prime minister his wedding photo.

"His wife of 50 years had just passed away. He said his wife was the most caring person you could ever meet and he was absolutely heartbroken that he couldn't give her the send-off that she deserved," Mr Morrison said.

Hand sanitiser beside the prime minister before his address at the NPC. Picture: AAP
Hand sanitiser beside the prime minister before his address at the NPC. Picture: AAP

"Of all the things, of all the decisions we have taken, that was undoubtedly one of the hardest."

Mr Morrison said the messages from children had particularly struck him.

"I received an email from three children in a similar vein in Western Australia. It completely floored me," he said.

"Their father terminally ill and they told me they understood that dad's funeral would have to be small and they wanted me to know that they were OK with that, because, they said, it will help keep hospitals available for other patients with cancers and diseases.

"That's incredible. Our people are amazing."

Mr Morrison said a dying woman had also offered him her prayers.

"There was Rebecca, a young woman, she's also terminally ill. She sent me this beautiful handwritten letter, just wanting to let me know she was praying for me every day," he said.

Overhauling the skills system will be a priority to stimulate job creation in a changing labour market.

Under Mr Morrison's plan, funding would be more closely linked to skill gaps based on what businesses need.

Industry will be given greater power to shape training, with pilot schemes across human services, digital technologies and mining used as examples for other sectors.

Subsidies, loans and other funding would be based on the scope for return on investment.

There would also be greater consistency between the vocational education and training, and higher education sectors.



The National Skills Commission will provide detailed labour market analysis to replace lists of apprenticeships and skilled migration along with other up-to-date data.

Mr Morrison's JobMaker plan rejects calls for government to play a major role in recovery over a longer period of time

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has argued government should play a vital role while also acknowledging the need to strengthen the private sector.

Mr Morrison is also expected to outline a process guiding industrial relations reform, considered another crucial area in the economic rebuild.

The prime minister will warn against retreating into a "downward spiral" of protectionism on trade while stressing the importance of reducing debt burdens.

"We must not borrow from future generations what we cannot return to them," he will say.

Meanwhile, Labor blamed the coalition government's bungled JobKeeper scheme on young people being forced to withdraw billions in retirement savings.

As of May 11, a third of the almost 1.4 million people who accessed up to $10,000 of their superannuation early were under 30, totalling around $3 billion.

About 268,000 people aged between 26 and 30 applied for early access, the biggest single group.

A further 247,700 were between 31 and 35, while 21 to 25 year olds accounted for 172,000 people who have applied for the cash.


People line up outside a Centrelink office in Brisbane. Picture: AAP
People line up outside a Centrelink office in Brisbane. Picture: AAP

The federal opposition believes the decision to exclude many arts and entertainment workers, university staff and a large chunk of casual employees from coronavirus wage subsidies is to blame.

"That will have devastating consequences for the type of income that they can rely on in retirement," Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said on Monday.

It comes as the Reserve Bank of Australia has revealed demand for notes for the year to last Thursday rose by more than nine per cent, going against the trend of the past couple of years.

Up to six per cent of that increase - worth about $5 billion - has happened since the mid-March share market convulsions.

The RBA revealed in its April financial stability report that cash withdrawals from banks increased in the second half of March.

"This included a small number of customers making very large withdrawals - more than $100,000, and in some cases into the millions of dollars," it said, adding that the elevated demand had since abated.

But a banking system insider says there's been another spike in demand in the past two weeks, not quite as big as in March, coming from banks and their customers.

"We are seeing banks are getting extra cash in anticipation of COVID restrictions easing, and retailers, pubs and clubs wanting their floats back, while people aren't making as many deposits," he told AAP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Also when people are more uncertain about things they tend to hold more liquidity around them. No one's suggesting there's any concern with the banks - people just do that."


Originally published as PM: Australia has 'reason to hope'

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