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The Prime Minister's address at the National Press Club

  • Written by Scott Morrison

Thank you very much. It’s great to be back here at the National Press Club at the start of another year.

 

Let me begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, their elders past, present and emerging.

 

I also recognise any veterans who are with us today, as well as any serving men and women of our Australian Defence Forces and thank you all for your great service to our country.

 

I particularly acknowledge and have many colleagues here today, so I'm not going to call the roll, but the Deputy Prime Minister - Barnaby, it's great to have you here with me.

 

Also, I acknowledge my dear friend Marise Payne for one particular reason - in just a few weeks' time, Marise will become the longest-serving female senator in Australia's history. And the longest continuous-serving parliamentarian as a female. And so, congratulations to you, Marise. You're a great colleague and you've served our country incredibly well. As a Liberal, I'm very proud of you. And as a mate too.

 

The past three years have been some of the most extraordinary that our nation has ever experienced.

 

Younger generations have never known anything like it.

 

The succession of natural disasters from drought to flood, fires, pestilence, a once in a century global pandemic, the recession it caused, has pushed our country to the very limits. 

 

It has been tough raising your family, keeping your job, doing your job - especially for those health and aged care workers, who we thank for their tremendous service.

 

It’s been tough keeping your small business or your farm going. 

 

It's been tough keeping your children’s education up, caring for elderly relatives, those with a disability, and it’s been very tough on them too.

 

Family plans have been disrupted. And worst of all it’s been heartbreaking to lose so many loved ones, especially in recent weeks, and on many occasions we have been unable to come together to farewell them.

 

Our way of life has been completely turned upside down.

 

For so many Australians it has been exhausting - financially, physically, emotionally. 

 

And when we thought we were just breaking free - the rains have come down, the cyclone has hit or a new and completely different strain of the virus, like Omicron, has come and changed all the rules. 

 

And I don’t doubt many have stayed awake at night after telling their kids or those they care for, or those they employ that it’s all going to be OK, but wondering to themselves, in the quiet of that night, whether it really will be.

 

And as Prime Minister I can assure you I have asked those same questions and lived with the same doubts.

 

It has been crushing to visit towns and homes, often with Jen, devastated by storms, ravaged by flood or fires, to walk across barren pastures, to see the queues outside Centrelink or testing centers, to see the empty shops and restaurants, as I saw in Cairns just over the weekend.

 

To see the lives and livelihoods of Australians disrupted through no fault of their own and through circumstances well beyond theirs, and our, control.

 

So I understand and acknowledge your frustration, especially with how the global pandemic has played out over this past very difficult summer. And I want to thank Australians. You’ve had to put up with a lot.  

 

The fact that far worse outcomes have been experienced overseas, which we know, well that gives some important perspective, but it doesn’t soften the blow. 

 

And it’s fair enough that this disappointment leads you to ask, couldn’t you have done more, couldn’t this have been avoided, after all, aren’t you responsible?

 

I get that. For me, as Prime Minister, accepting this responsibility means asking yourself and challenging yourself every single day with these same very questions every single day. And I can assure you I do.

 

I haven’t got everything right. 

 

And I’ll take my fair share of the criticism and the blame. It goes with the job.

 

But so does getting up each day, dealing with the challenges, staying positive, and believing in the strength and good nature and resilience of the Australian people and, above all, never giving up.

 

In these times we have experienced, there has been no guidebook and you have to make decisions in real time.

 

But with hindsight the view does change and lessons are learned.

 

Lessons that will continue to be invaluable to me and my team, so many of whom are with me today, and those out there with their communities, to deal with challenges and uncertainties that are still ahead. 

 

And I’d like to share a few of them with you.

 

Firstly, you’ve always got to focus on getting the balance right.  

 

From the outset of the pandemic, I have said our twin goals have been to save lives and save livelihoods. This is how we protect our Australian way of life. And I have always sought to balance our health objectives with our broader societal and economic well-being. 

 

We must respect the virus but we must not live in fear of it. You must be prepared to listen to that advice, but also to take the decisions that strike the right balance. Because it is we who have been trusted with those decisions.

 

Secondly, you must be very practical. The virus does not care what your political views are. It writes the rules about how it behaves and we must then write our rules about how we respond. And these rules must be flexible - they will change. There is no set and forget in a pandemic like this. There are times when you have to pull back and there are times you have to push forward.  And what may have been the right response at one point in time during the pandemic may flip on you and it may not be the right response in a later phase of the pandemic.

 

Thirdly, you must accept that you may lose a few battles along the way. 

 

And when these setbacks occur you must keep moving forward. You can’t dwell on the things that haven’t play out as you may have expected or liked. When this occurs, the job is to get across the problem and make the changes needed as soon as possible. And get on with it.

 

This is what we did with the vaccine rollout when our contracted supplies were blocked and the advisory bodies had limited our use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. These were big challenges. But we turned it around. 

 

It is what we are doing right now to overcome the supply chain shortages created by the onset of the Omicron variant. It’s only been with us two months. And this included the supply of Rapid Antigen Tests.

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 tests have always been free at official testing clinics. Never changed.

 

These tests have been sourced and provided by the state and territory governments. The Commonwealth picks up 50% of the bill - just like those going out to schools right now. 

 

The unprecedented surge in cases caused by Omicron changed everything. It was like dealing with a completely new virus. The medical advice to Government on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests changed and so did our response. 

 

And so since then, the Government contracted 78 million Rapid Antigen Tests to help meet significant new demands in the states and the territories and the private sector.  

 

Over 652,000 concession card holders have already accessed over 2.7 million free Rapid Antigen Tests through the community pharmacy concession card holder program which commenced just over a week ago. 

 

The Government is also delivering 10 million Rapid Antigen Tests to support state and territories clinics.

And in our own area of responsibility, around 8 million tests have already been provided to aged care facilities with the purchasing of those tests beginning back in August last year.

 

Now fourthly, you must work together and learn from each other, but understand that everywhere is not the same.  We have constantly engaged with experts and Governments around the world to share experience, data and information. And they’ve learnt from us, I can tell you. But that doesn’t mean that what is done elsewhere is the right solution for our conditions or circumstances here in Australia.

 

Australia has many differences with the rest of the world. Our regulatory authorities, our seasons, our health and social security systems, our federation. Unique. Cut and paste doesn't cut it in a pandemic. And that is why we designed JobKeeper, rather than go down the UK path for wage subsidies, which others recommended, that would have provided greater income support to those on higher wages than those on lower wages and could not have been easily delivered, or promptly delivered, through our tax system or payments system. 

 

So we said no, that wasn't a good idea. We won't do that. We'll design a different system. And we did. And it saved lives and livelihoods all across this country.

 

Fifthly, you must have clearly defined principles, grounded in your values, to guide your decisions and you must stick to them. 

 

Now, I outlined these at the AFR Summit back at the start of the pandemic.

 

And those have included ensuring that initiatives and programmes are targeted, time limited, use existing delivery mechanisms, that they are proportionate, are fiscally responsible, locally relevant and scalable.

 

You must also focus on what you can control and what you are responsible for.

 

A good example is respecting the constitutional responsibilities of the states and the Commonwealth under our federation. The pandemic did not suspend the constitution or the federation. It did not change the rules about what the states and the commonwealth have always been responsible for. They didn’t get any more powers, they didn’t get any less. And I have always sought to put the national interest first by seeking to work together with the Premiers and Chief Ministers through the National Cabinet and not engage in petty fights. That wouldn’t have helped anyone. My job was to get everyone in the room together. I have sought to work together to make it work. 

 

And finally, never forget that there is more to deal with than COVID. 

 

During this pandemic, as just one example, we have simultaneously been dealing with one of the most significant shifts in global and regional security we have seen since before the Second World War. 

 

Changes that present a direct threat to Australia’s economic and security interests. So while we have been battling the pandemic, we have concluded the historic, significant AUKUS agreement, powered up the Quad, concluded a landmark defence agreement with Japan, supported our Pacific family, and concluded comprehensive strategic partnership agreements with some of our most important partners: India, the first country to have one with ASEAN and the south-east nations there, South Korea, Malaysia and our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea.

 

So here we are. Not perfect, but still standing strong, enduring and looking positively to the future, as earlier generations did when they faced their time of great generational trial and challenge.

 

Let’s talk about our health response more and its resilience. Our health response has ensured that our health and aged care system has stood up to the global pandemic, where in so many other countries around the world it has collapsed. 

 

More than 40,000 lives have been saved, when compared to the death rate from COVID in other countries just like Australia. We have one of the lowest death rates from COVID in the world, including from Omicron.

 

We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. More than 93 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.

 

Today, less than one year after vaccinations commenced, Australia’s 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination will be administered today. That’s around 1 million on average every week, and that’s including 8 million doses of boosters.

 

We are one of only a handful of countries, a small number, able to be vaccinating children down to age 5. 

 

And since the pandemic began our Government has committed an additional $40 billion to support Australia’s health response to the pandemic. That’s more than Medicare and the PBS in any given year.

 

This has included going 50/50 with the States and Territories with over $8 billion provided to date to assist state health systems managing the pandemic with hospitals, testing and workforce costs.

 

More than 91 million telehealth services have been delivered, since the beginning of the pandemic, a big health innovation, to over 16 million patients since the beginning of the pandemic.

 

New oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 will start to become available shortly and the other antivirals are already in place.

 

Our agreement with Moderna and the Victorian Government announced in December, many months in the making, will ensure we can manufacture mRNA vaccines in Australia.

 

That adds to our support for Resmed manufacturing ventilators in Western Sydney, Med Con’s mask manufacturing in Shepparton, Aspen Medical’s manufacturing of PPE in Brisbane, Innovation Scientific’s production of TGA approved Rapid Antigen Tests in Western Sydney and of course CSL’s manufacturing of vaccines and antivenoms in Melbourne. We’ve been making this stuff here.

 

Of course, none of our health outcomes would be possible without the hard work, the long hours and dedicated care offered by our frontline health and aged care workforce. The true heroes of this pandemic. Their resilience over the past two years has been nothing short of inspiring.

 

That’s why I am announcing today the Government is providing a further $209 million to support the aged care workforce to continue to care for older Australians through this pandemic.

 

Now, this is a responsible commitment that builds on the $393 million provided over three payments to 234,000 aged care workers earlier in the pandemic. It worked, we’re doing it again.

 

In coming months, two bonus payments of up to $400 each will be paid to aged care workers including those providing direct care, food or cleaning services.

 

Our pandemic investments in mental health and suicide prevention will also leave a lasting legacy.

 

While every death by suicide is a tragedy, every life saved is a great blessing. Official figures show that while demands for mental health services surged off the charts during the pandemic, remarkably, death by suicide rates across the country actually fell. And it remained at those lower levels. That’s extraordinary.

 

We funded services that did a brilliant job of saving lives. $1 billion in new funding for services such as Headspace - and a shout-out to Pat McGorry, who's been a great adviser and friend to us through all of this pandemic. Lifeline, to John Brogden and the whole team there. Beyond Blue, with Julia and the Kids Helpline - they have done such an amazing job, being there for Australians in their darkest hour.

 

Our National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan was announced in May 2020. 

 

Also very early in the pandemic when we were asking Australians to stay home, we knew and recognised that for so many, home is not safe for them, especially women.

 

And in March 2020, as part of our $150 million COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support Package, we provided $20 million to boost capacity for Commonwealth programs including 1800RESPECT, Mensline and the Help Is Here campaign. 

 

And in turn, $130 million was provided directly to state and territory governments for emergency accommodation for those impacted, and a range of frontline support services, working together. Now this commitment has been extended a further two years.

 

And to ensure the viability of NDIS providers we provided more than $666 million in advance payments, and made changes to allow eligible NDIS providers to claim a payment to support their disability workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

 

Strong health resilience, built through a once in a century pandemic.

 

Our economy has also shown formidable resilience through the pandemic. It has outstripped the performance of most advanced economies in the world.

 

And this was greatly assisted by entering the pandemic with a balanced budget delivered by strong financial management.

 

While Omicron has impacted economic activity over January, Treasury analysis shows that the underlying strength of our economy is unshaken. On several occasions now our economy has bounced back strongly from the impacts of the pandemic. And it will again.

 

Our AAA credit rating remains intact, one of only nine countries to achieve this.

 

At 3.5 per cent, inflation in Australia is running well below other advanced economies, and the pressures are less than in those, such as 7 per cent in the US and 5 per cent in the UK. 

 

There are more people in work today than before the pandemic and even compared to when I stood before you this time last year. 

 

In fact there are more Australians of working age in jobs today - 76.2 per cent - than at any time in Australia’s recorded economic history. 

 

That’s what a job plan looks like when it works.

 

Unemployment is at 4.2 per cent. When I stood here a year ago,  it was 6.6 per cent.

 

And women and young people have been major beneficiaries of our economic plan.

 

Female employment, since we were elected, has increased by more than 1 million since our Government was elected. 1 million. And our youth unemployment has fallen to below 10 per cent for the first time since 2008. And as my colleague knows, nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than hearing young people are getting into jobs.

 

Through the heavy lifting of more than $100 billion in Federal Government COVID business support, hundreds of thousands of livelihoods and businesses have been saved.

 

And our ongoing tax incentives for investment, apprenticeship wage subsidies and record investment in new training places are helping small and medium sized businesses and their employees to push through.

 

Our apprentice wage subsidies have driven a 27 per cent increase in apprentices and trainees over the past year.

 

Right now, there are now 220,000 trade apprentices currently in training. That is the highest level of apprentices in trade training since records began in Australia in 1963. That’s transformational.

 

When we stared into this pandemic, one of the things the Treasurer and I were very keen to avoid was a lost generation of skills. And it so easily could have happened.

 

The very first wage subsidy we provided was to keep apprentices in their training and in those businesses. As I've moved across the country these last two years, I've met those apprentices. And most recently, I was out in Penrith. And I met one. They'd just finished their 4-year apprenticeship. That would never have happened.

 

Our $110 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects is supporting economic growth and resilience, especially in regional Australia.

 

More than 11 million Australian taxpayers are benefitting from income tax relief - as we promised - and the latest ATO data showing that younger Australians have benefited more than most. Under 25s have benefitted on average by more than $2,400 under our plan, that is a decline in their tax bill of almost 20 per cent. That’s what keeping more of what you earn looks like.

 

On average Australians are also now 47 months ahead on their mortgage repayments, compared to 30 months in September 2019, with an estimated $245 billion in additional savings on household balance sheets since the pandemic began. Australians have been very wise with their money during this pandemic, very wise. They’ve exercised good judgment and good discipline.

 

Over 300,000 Australians have been directly assisted into home ownership during the past three years through Government programmes like Homebuilder and the Home Guarantee Scheme. That’s what we promised at the last election. We said we would get people in homes. And we’ve assisted more than 300,000 of them.

 

And at a time when North Atlantic economies are experiencing energy shortages and price spikes, ACCC data shows electricity prices, the Minister for getting electricity prices down is over there, Angus Taylor, are now 8 per cent lower than 2 years ago - the lowest in eight years - saving households $128 a year.

 

So that’s what economic resilience looks like. And you must continue that.

 

In 2022 our focus is squarely on locking in our economic recovery to create jobs, jobs and more jobs. 

We are passionate about getting Australians into jobs and we have the experience, we have the track record and the economic plans to back this up.

 

Jobs change lives. They change families. They change communities. They give Australians purpose and independence. They free them from the clutches of welfare and dependence.  And they do the heavy lifting on transforming the budget also.

 

I believe we can now achieve an unemployment rate with a 3 in front of it this year. Our goal is to achieve this in the second half of 2022. 

 

We have not seen this in Australia for almost half a century. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. 

 

What it means, unemployment with a 3 in front of it, is that as our economy changes there are jobs to go to, enabling families and local communities to plan for their future with confidence.

 

It means that when our kids leave school, or finish their apprenticeship or university they can focus on the job they aspire to rather than worrying about whether they can get a job. There is no more important vision than having a country where we enable our kids to realise their dreams about what they want for their life.

 

And this fits with our broader vision for Australia, the Liberals and Nationals together.

 

Where Australians can live the life they choose for themselves and make their own way. To run their businesses, to get that job, get the skills they need to achieve their goals. To own their own home, raise and educate their kids the way they want to do it, to be able to save for their retirement, not get into too much debt and take that occasional family holiday. To give back to their community wherever they can, as they want to and including taking care of their local environment. And to live in a country that is safe and secure. 

 

These are what I describe as the great Australian aspirations - and they depend on a strong economy.

 

A strong economy means a stronger future, and this cannot be taken for granted.

 

As we approach this year’s election this means strong economic management is more important than ever.

 

Our national economic plan has enabled us to drive our economy, as I’ve demonstrated, through this pandemic. 

 

The plan seeks to create jobs by securing our economic recovery from COVID and setting Australia up for the future.

 

The plan has five core elements. You’ve heard me talk about it before

 

Firstly, keeping taxes low and cutting red tape to drive investment and enable Australians to keep more of what they earn, as we promised.                   

 

Secondly, investing in the infrastructure and skills development and growing our workforce to meet the demands of a growing economy.         

                                               

Thirdly, delivering the affordable, reliable energy that Australian businesses and especially regional economies need to power their futures ahead, while reducing our emissions to achieve net zero by 2050 and reducing household electricity bills. 

                                                                                                                                               

Fourthly, making Australia a top ten data and digital economy by 2030.

 

And fifthly, securing our sovereign manufacturing capability, unlocking a new generation of high-wage, high-skill, high tech jobs.

 

Now this plan, I want to stress, has another overarching objective and that is about ensuring we grow together and not apart. In our cities and suburbs, as well as in our regions, towns and remote communities. We must grow together.

 

And that’s something I believe the Liberals and Nationals bring together in what is a unique Coalition and is so important for our country.

 

I have spoken before about many elements of this plan and will do so again as we make further announcements this year.

 

Today though I want to conclude by announcing how we are taking our modern manufacturing strategy to the next level, first instigated by Karen Andrews, who’s Minister for Home Affairs. And we’re doing it with greater investment in our world-class university research capabilities.

 

Our Modern Manufacturing Strategy has set out clear priorities to build new sources of growth and scale in six areas where Australia has significant comparative advantage, strategic interests and the capacity to harness new opportunities.

 

In medical products, food and beverage, recycling and clean energy, resources technology and critical minerals processing, defence industry and space.

 

To date we have committed over $312 million in funding to boost manufacturing capability and supply chain resilience, leveraging $677 million more in private sector investment.

 

We now need to better link and leverage our world class research sector to boost these efforts. 

 

85 per cent of Australian research is rated, officially, at or above world standard. 

 

Yet we continue to underperform, frustratingly, in achieving commercialisation outcomes.

 

We need to shift the focus from citations to commercial success.

 

We need to accelerate the forging of linkages between Australian industry and Australian university researchers.

 

And we need to develop a new breed of research entrepreneurs here in Australia so they can create the new products and new companies and most importantly, the new jobs.

 

The Government’s University Research Commercialisation Plan will align these research priorities with our Modern Manufacturing Strategy.  We’re going to fuse them. It will focus research effort on the same six National Manufacturing Priorities.

 

In November, I announced the first element of this plan, once I am particularly excited about, the Trailblazer Universities programme. 

 

This will see eligible universities undertake reforms, including to intellectual property arrangements, and provide clear promotional pathways for academic researchers engaging in commercialisation activities.

 

Now, the first step is underway, with 8 university proposals shortlisted to share in $243 million of investment, working closely with industry partners.  And regions, they’re going to do great in these programs.

 

Funding of $30 million will see participating universities partnering with CSIRO to access specialist equipment, enabling researchers to prototype and test technologies at scale.

 

Today I am announcing the cornerstone of the Government’s new approach to turning great Australian ideas into commercial success – a $1.6 billion program called Australia’s Economic Accelerator.

 

In driving commercialisation, the key policy challenge surrounds the so-called ‘valley of death’ – where early-stage research is frequently not progressed to later stages of development because of the risk and uncertainty about commercial returns. When I was Treasurer, we changed the tax rules on this.

 

We know this is not insurmountable.  Other countries have made a better fist of solving this problem and the Government’s expert panel made a point of looking at this evidence.

 

Australia’s Economic Accelerator is a stage-gated, competitive program designed to attract projects at proof of concept or proof of scale and their level of commercial readiness for both, but with high potential.  

 

It will allow Australian innovators to access funding opportunities for each stage of their project provided they can continue to prove project viability and importantly, commercial potential.  

 

Industry involvement and engagement is required and absolutely necessary at every stage, with the CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures engaged to catalyse venture capital investment in R&D in the final stage.

 

Another key part of our plan goes directly to people and culture.

 

Only 40 per cent of Australia’s researchers work in private industry – well below the OECD average.  This together with low mobility between industry and the university sectors leads to culture and capability gaps that reduce the ability of Australian businesses to innovate.

 

Now to tackle this issue, the Government will invest in a new suite of industry PhD and research fellowship schemes to create Australia’s new generation of research entrepreneur.

 

We will invest in an additional 1,800 industry PhDs and more than 800 industry fellows over 10 years.

 

This $296 million investment aims to fundamentally reshape the workforce of Australia’s universities and career options, encouraging mobility and collaboration between university researchers and industry. It is time to get together.

 

Our $2.2 billion University Research Commercialisation package will focus the considerable research power, our smartest mind of our universities, on Australia’s national economic priorities.  

 

And as we drive down unemployment, we’re also driving up the creation of new products and new companies in Australia.

 

Backing our best researchers and their ideas to ensure Australia’s economy roars back even stronger in the future, with leading edge manufacturing at its core.        

 

We make stuff here. We make it really well. And we’re going to keep making it under this Government.

 

Now, in conclusion, there are times in all of our lives, and for nations, when things don’t come easy, when we persevere and struggle to push our way through. 

 

We’ve known these days. I’ve known these days. And at those times you remember, you look back and say that's the time I became stronger. This is again one of those times. And it has been.

 

Despite the challenges we have faced, Australia, I believe, is stronger and more resilient today than when I stood before you a year ago.

 

Our COVID response has delivered one of the lowest death rates, highest vaccination rates and strongest economies in the world. 

 

And we remain well prepared for the future.

 

Just like before, it won’t be perfect, but the experience we have gained, the investments we have made and above all the resilience that Australians themselves have shown mean that we can see our way forward. 

 

But we cannot take this for granted. Now is not the time to turn back.

 

This year we must work to bring as much normality back to peoples’ lives as possible and at the same time as we continue to battle this constantly shape-shifting pandemic, we must continue to make the big calls necessary to keep our economy strong, keep Australians safe, and keep Australians growing together and not apart.

 

This requires experience, requires careful deliberation, requires fiscal responsibility, well-developed plans. Above all, the courage to take decisions that stand up for Australia’s interests, and not be intimidated, as we have demonstrated especially over these past three years.

 

It is not a time to have an each way bet on Australia’s future.

 

We must continue to build our strength and resilience - and not put everything you have worked all so hard for, and made great sacrifices for, at risk. 

 

Because, in these times, that’s what truly matters. 

 

Thank you for your very kind attention.


JOURNALIST: Thank you, Prime Minister, for that very extensive address. It's a new year. So a good opportunity to clear the air. You've acknowledged today you didn't get everything right and that you understand the frustration people have felt over the summer. But do you want to take this opportunity to actually say sorry for the mistakes you've made as prime minister? Not just about COVID. Everything from going to Hawaii during the bushfires, to not having enough rapid antigen tests in place, even as you foreshadowed the switch to a greater use of them and for failing to live up to your pledge to hundreds of thousands of people on the NDIS that you will make sure the scheme was fully funded, uncapped and demand driven. And will you apologise to people who've had, the hundreds of people, who've had funding arbitrarily cut under the scheme? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks for the question. 

 

JOURNALIST: Always happy to ask questions, Prime Minister. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: We're all terribly sorry for what this pandemic has done to the world and to this country. These are the times in which we live and I've set out today, I think very clearly the challenges that we've faced. But I'm also very proud of Australians and what they've achieved in enabling us all to come through this, despite the setbacks and the challenges that we have faced. In terms of the things when I say we haven't got everything right. Let me reflect on a couple of them for you. 

 

First of all, as we went into this summer, we were optimistic. I was optimistic. We were all desperately looking forward to a great summer. And one of the things we learn again is that the virus has a way of bringing you back to Earth. And I think as we went into the summer, I think we were too optimistic, perhaps, and we could have communicated more clearly about the risks and challenges that we still faced. And I think in raising those expectations about the summer, that we heightened the great sense of disappointment that people felt. And as we had to make massive changes because of Omicron, as I said, the rapid antigen tests had only actually even been approved for use by the TGA earlier in November, we agreed at the meeting of National Cabinet about how they'd be funded and who had to go and get them. And so we moved quickly because we hadn't anticipated that we would have a variant that resulted in the vaccine not being able to stop the transmission. We had invested so much and Australians invested so much in getting those vaccinations, and over November and December, we were focused on the booster programme, the children's programme. And at the same time, Omicron came and completely turned things on its head. So we moved quickly and I've set out the steps that we've taken to work that around. And in our communications, we have to be clear about that because we can't lift people's hopes and then disappoint them. And I think that's what happened over the break. 

 

Secondly, on the vaccination programme, if I had my time over, I would have put it under a military operation from the outset and not later in the year. But we’d all worked up the plan together. Going through cabinet, our cabinet, been through the National Cabinet and set out the timetables. We'd had the goal of ensuring that everyone who wanted a vaccine, could be offered one by October, the record that was achieved on the 25th of October. And as we went through those early months and we had the challenges that we have with the health department and us dealing with many, many issues, I took the decision to send in General Frewen and changed the way we did it and set up a change in the command structure, how logistics were managed, how it was planned, and it worked. But I wish we'd done that earlier, and that's a lesson.

 

In the aged care sector we knew, I should say we learnt, that the interface between the aged care sector and the public hospital system was blurred. And so when the storms of COVID hit, that created some real challenges and in the aged care sector, and I remember it was one of the hardest days of the pandemic, was St Basil’s, and we had a whole health workforce stood down because of COVID rules, so understand that, left an aged care facility with no staff and I had to send the military in that night. The interface and whether patients could be moved, how and when from aged care facilities and to hospitals to private and public that emerged earlier in the pandemic. And so that could have been done better between both the states and ourselves. 

 

But as you can see, these are not simple issues with simple solutions. They're complex and events can work against you. What I say to Australians on every occasion where something hasn't gone exactly as we'd hoped or we've got it exactly right or where we would like to have turned out, we've crushed together with the problem, solved it and moved forward. And that's what Australians expect of us. I don't think they expect perfection, but they do expect you to keep working it every single day, and that's something I'm very proud of my government has done. 

 

Now on the NDIS, we are fully funding the NDIS. It's one of my great passions as people know in this place and I will never let people down if I can help it, in the NDIS. It's a huge programme. It's a programme that is well expanded beyond what the Productivity Commission said it would. Well beyond the design of it and how it was set up. It's contributed massively to the costs and those designs, we're not having much success in convincing those at state level, Commonwealth level and through the Parliament as to how that can be best managed. It's going to be a big challenge in the years ahead, the NDIS. But people know I'm totally committed to it. 

 

JOURNALIST: So you don't have to say sorry about any of those things?

 

PRIME MINISTER: I think I've explained my answer fairly fully.

 

JOURNALIST: It was very full. Chris Uhlmann. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Chris Uhlmann, 9News. The cost of living is a daily concern for most Australians. You talked about the dream of home ownership, with the median house price hitting a million dollars in three cities, that's become a nightmare for many young Australians. Is there anything you can conceivably do about that? The cost of petrol rose 30 per cent last year, now that's set by international marketplaces, but you do control excise. Would you, like John Howard, consider pausing excise if it continues to rise. And what about the price of gas? You must have considered the possibility that Russia will invade Ukraine, cut Germany's gas supply and the price will skyrocket. Can you conceive of making sure that Australian gas prices don't follow world prices by having some of the market kept here? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, you've rightly set out Chris, the economic uncertainty that we're facing globally, and that's very true. The global economic situation is full of challenges and plenty of surprises and many threats to Australia. And that's why economic management, I think, is more important than ever. So I mentioned the inflationary pressures on Australia are building, but they are not like we are seeing overseas. And how you manage inflation principally is, particularly how you manage the national finances. They are things that we have control over and the fact that in the course of this pandemic, we've been able to maintain our AAA credit rating despite having to spend significant amounts. Those who have looked at our fiscal plans and made assessments about it, could see what we were doing, how we were seeking to target it. It was time limited. Others wanted us to keep spending. They wanted us to extend JobKeeper. That was running about $11 billion a month. They wanted us to pay for things that people were already doing on vaccines. They wanted us to just spend money some $13 to $18 billion on things that were better targeted to those who needed concessional access and need it on those tests. So how do you manage your budget is very important about how you control inflation, and we have a good track record on that. 

 

On home ownership, it's always hard to buy your first home. It's terribly hard and particularly in the city, in Sydney. I remember it. Jen and I remember it ourselves. It's hard and it's still hard and I'd argue even harder. And that's why at the last election we came up with, I think, some very effective programmes. We can't manage what happens to house prices, but we can help people get into homes. And our Government has helped 300,000 Australians to get into homes. 300,000. And Australians have wisely built up their own store houses during this pandemic to deal with the shocks that are coming. They are 47 months on average ahead of their mortgage payments. That's discipline. That's wise. And so Australians together with the government are going to continue to, I think, to exercise responsible judgment about our finances, invest in the things that help grow our economy because a strong economy then enables you to guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on like the NDIS, like health, like aged care. If you don't have a strong economy, you cannot pay for the NDIS, so that's why these things are important. So I acknowledge, Chris, that these are great pressures. An eight per cent fall in electricity prices. Who was predicting that three years ago? But we said we were going to get electricity prices down and the measures we put in place have helped that outcome. So we'll keep pursuing those policies and there'll be more to help people get that first start in their home, as we have seen, and to ensure that we keep downward pressure, whether it's on inflation or interest rates, to ensure that Australians can continue to get a go. If you lose control of the financial and economic management levers, then Australia's worst fears on the economy would be realised. 

 

And the issue of Ukraine, of Ukraine, I should say. This is a very distressing and concerning situation. You've asked specifically about what it means for gas prices, well we have the security mechanism here in Australia and we know how that can be used. Australian gas must be for Australians, but there are also opportunities for our gas producers who have invested billions and so on both of those issues, I think we will manage them carefully and in Australia's national interests. 

 

JOURNALIST: Clare Armstrong.

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks Prime Minister. Clare Armstrong from The Daily Telegraph. Many Australians viewed the responses to the events in Parliament last year as representative of the experiences in the treatment of women everywhere. You've had multiple reviews. You've got the Jenkins Report on your desk. There's been a staff training video and a hotline. But what actually makes Parliament and political offices more safe for women now than they were 12 months ago? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'd say the most important thing that has happened is we now have an independent complaints mechanism. This was one of the key recommendations and the one we have acted on, and we've done that together as a Parliament together and that I think assists everybody who works in that building, not just the politicians and their staff. That process that we examine closely that let down so many a year ago and before has been significantly changed and for the better. And we have learnt from those times and I believe it's safer today than it was a year ago because of those changes and the brave stands that people have taken on these issues. And I've listened carefully to them and reflected on them and will continue to work to ensure that those processes work for people. Because if you find yourself in that situation, it's incredibly important that there are those out there to help you and support you to be able to make good decisions for you and to address the things that you need addressed to make the place safer. And so the independent complaints mechanism that we've put in place and the counselling support and the other things that sit around that, I think provides an environment, should, God forbid, that ever happen to anyone again, that they will find the situation very different to the one Ms Higgins found herself in.

 

JOURNALIST: Just before we go to the next question, Prime Minister, are you happy to keep taking questions? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. 

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks. And for our viewers at home after 1:30, the ABC News, the ABC main channel will cut out, but you'll be able to continue watching on ABC 24. 

 

JOURNALIST: Mark Riley. 

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mark Riley, 7 Network. Are your bonuses for aged care sector workers, which have been generally accepted as a good thing, although some suggest in the shadows of an election, they sound like how to vote cheques. The sector says, the workers say what they really need is an increase in their base rate of pay. These are appallingly low paid workers doing extraordinary work, not just in the pandemic, obviously much more obvious during the pandemic, but every day for our older citizens. Labor says it will intervene in the Fair Work Commission case to argue for an increase in their base rate. Why won't your government do that? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me address your first question. The $400 payments, retention payments, that's what they effectively are. We've already done this once before. And we know it works. And with the the workforce challenges we've had, particularly Omicron, that's why this has come about, not for any other reason suggested. What we're doing here is helping the aged care providers give that support to aged care workers during this pandemic to be able to keep them there working in those facilities, which is incredibly important. That's what it's designed to do and we know it was effective last time and we believe it will be effective again and it needs to happen now. And it has been done in consultation with the industry as well. One of the things that they have called for as we've responded to the Omicron variant. So that is why we're doing this. We've done it before and we’re doing it again, and we believe that will help manage the significant demands on those workers themselves as well as the aged care facilities. 

 

Now the other matter, I've noticed the suggestion made by the Leader of the Opposition. I haven't heard how he proposes to fund that. I don't know what he estimates the cost of that will be and how he would work that through. So that's for him to explain as to how he can pay for the things he tells Australians he thinks he can do. I've always been, I think, pretty upfront about that sort of thing, and there's a process underway and we will let that process follow its course and we'll of course, have to absorb any decision that is taken there. And that's the way I think these things should be dealt with. But you know, we've all had experience with those who have worked in aged care, particularly if you've had a parent who's been in palliative care, end of life care. And we're incredibly grateful. And there are many things we want to do in this country and we want to encourage them to do that. And the aged care workforce strategy, which has been worked together by the Minister for Health and Aged Care and the Minister for Workforce Stuart Robert, will further address our plans to support the aged care workforce. We'll have more to say about that, and I can assure you our plans will be costed, our plans will be funded and we'll know how they work. 

 

JOURNALIST: Andrew Clennell. 

 

JOURNALIST: Andrew Clennell from Sky News, Prime Minister, we've got up to 100 Australians a day dying with COVID, a low booster rate, inflation, indoor businesses in Sydney and Melbourne on their knees without your support. What are you going to do about these problems? Have you lost touch with ordinary Australians? And on that theme, off the top of your head, can you tell me the price of a loaf of bread, a litre of petrol and a rapid antigen test? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me talk to you about a couple of things on that point. First of all, through the pandemic, you can't pay for everything, because it all has to be paid for. Over the course of this pandemic, we have provided over $100 billion in economic support. JobKeeper being the most significant and that has saved businesses across this country. And we're doing that at a time with the COVID disaster payments as well, when we had shut businesses down. Not the virus. The Government took decisions to shut businesses down. And of course, in those circumstances, one of the things we have to be very mindful of Andrew is that this thing isn't over yet. It's not over. The next variant could have any number of permutations to it. And so when we decided to do JobKeeper, we said it's going to start and it's going to finish. And people asked the Treasurer and I the same question that you are asking me now, why are you pulling JobKeeper away? Because that's what you do when you're responsible and running a government. You can't say yes to everybody all the time, and you have to do things which ensure that you've got your government and your bank balances of government able to deal with the next challenge. I mean our opponents wanted to keep it going. They would have spent $11 billion a month to keep going, they would have spent $6 billion paying people to have a vaccine they already had, and $13 to $18 billion on tests when free tests were already available to those who needed them and those who were on concession cards who needed them and have equitable access to them. 

 

So these are hard choices, Andrew. They're very hard choices and you make them every day in a pandemic. Now, I'm not going to pretend to you that I go out each day and I buy a loaf of bread and I buy a litre of milk. I'm not going to pretend that I do that and I'll leave those sort of things to you mate, and you can run it. But the point is, I do my job every day to ensure that those things are as affordable as they possibly can be for Australians every single day. As I said, our inflationary pressures in this country lower than what we're seeing in other countries. And it's important that we ensure that people are able and have the resilience to deal with those economic pressures coming, just like my answer earlier. It's going to be tough in the months and years ahead. There's going to be strong economic challenges. And you've got to make decisions in real time and ensure that you've got the capacity to deal with the challenges that are yet to come. And that's what people will get from me. That's what responsibility looks like. Not saying yes to everybody and telling them everything they want to hear, saying one thing to them in weone part of the country and another thing to them in another part of the country. You don't get that from me. I've got it from both of my previous opponents politically, and I think Australians make a judgment about that, about whether they actually have the responsibility and the discipline to carry what is a very weighty office. 

 

JOURNALIST: And I just remind my colleagues that we are asking one question each, thank you Andrew Clennell. And Andrew Probyn. 

 

JOURNALIST: Andrew Probyn from the ABC. As you've indicated in your speech, you recognise that people are very disappointed, angry over summer. Your colleagues say the anger with you is very high on the ground, too, and that your disapproval rating recognised in the Newspoll was on 58 disapproval, to remind you, net negative 19 percent approval rating and that you are a drag on the Coalition vote. Why are you the best person to lead the Coalition to the next election? 

 

JOURNALIST: I have a great trust in the Australian people. I think they're very wise, and I think they're very discerning. I think they take elections very, very seriously because they know the consequences. And there's a difference between answering a phone and walking into a ballot box and making a decision that has consequences. And I know from my own experience that they will weigh these things up in the months ahead, and I will make careful judgements about what's important. And they know that the times we face are very challenging. They know that the security situation we face in the world today is very challenging, and they'll be saying "who has the economic plan and economic management experience to ensure that I can stay in my job and my business can succeed, that can get electricity prices under control and bring them down, that will best support me in saving for my retirement, that will ensure that my kids are getting those skills training like those record apprentices in trade training that we've been able to put in place, and who has that experience and who has that understanding of the complexity of these challenges to make all that work and the way that unfolds”. And they’ll weight that up. And they’ll wonder with what we're seeing in our region and the threats to our security, well, who's shown that they're able to stand up for Australia's interests, whether it's standing up to other countries in our region, standing up to the big tech companies, standing up to the banks and the energy companies? That's my form ... 

 

JOURNALIST: And thinking here of your colleagues or voters? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: I understood the question. And so I'm talking about Australians because they're the ones who will be voting and as they assess all of these things they will make this choice, Andrew, at that time, and between now and then, they'll have the opportunity, not to vote in a referendum this year, it's not a referendum on the government. This is a choice about who's going to lead the government after the election, and there are two choices and they'll be able to see the differences between those two choices and I think, weigh up the consequences of those two choices and they'll carefully consider it. Australians, you know, in between elections, they tend not to focus that much on politics because they are focused on what matters most to them, not the political goings on of this place. They're focusing on getting their kids through school. They're focused on running their businesses and staying in their job and paying the bills and looking after and caring for family members. And that's what they're focused on. But the time for the election will come, and when it does, they'll weigh these things up and they'll quietly go about their business.

 

JOURNALIST: Peter van Onselen.

 

JOURNALIST: Peter van Onselen, Network 10. Prime Minister, at the start of your speech, you mentioned your close friendship with Marise Payne. I wanted to ask you about another close friend, Gladys Berejiklian, and that’s somebody that you wanted to run actually at the next election. I've been provided with a text message exchange between the former New South Wales Premier and a current Liberal Cabinet Minister. I've got them right here. In one, she described you as, quote, ‘a horrible, horrible person,’ going on to say she did not trust you and you're more concerned with politics than people. The Minister is even more scathing, describing you as a fraud and, quote, ‘a complete psycho’. Does this exchange surprise you and what do you think it tells us?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don't know who you're referring to or the basis of what you’ve put to me, but I obviously don't agree with it, and I don't think that's my record.

 

JOURNALIST: Katharine Murphy.

 

JOURNALIST: Apologies, that changeover was less than, less than elegant. Prime Minister, I want to take you back to aged care, which you referenced a moment ago. Now, more than 400 aged care residents have died of COVID since the beginning of January. There are active outbreaks in about half of residential aged care facilities as we sit down to lunch today, and the booster program for aged care is running behind where it needs to be. Now, a second ago you acknowledged the problems in aged care in the first wave. Obviously there were hundreds of deaths then, and you presented aged care as a, as a lesson learned.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.

 

JOURNALIST: Doesn't this suggest that the lessons haven't been learned? And in terms of taking responsibility, that was an important theme in your speech. You've got to know what you’re responsible for and what you're not. Aged care is absolutely the responsibility of the Commonwealth. You fund it and you regulate it. So why do these errors keep being repeated for a cohort of Australians who are frail, vulnerable and at risk during the pandemic? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks Katharine. As of now, 90, let me say this first, every single death, some 3,750 of Australians that we have lost, is a terrible loss. Every life saved is a great blessing, as I said, also. In the course of this pandemic, many lives have been lost. In the course of this pandemic, many, many lives have been saved. That is the reality of a global pandemic. And I think Australians understand that. You made some points regarding the booster shots. Ninety nine per cent of aged care facilities, I'm advised, have been and will be around today, will have been visited to offer those booster shots. We have not mandated the taking of boosters by aged care residents. We have for aged care workers, but not for aged care residents. Some 61 per cent, as you, as you know, and every death is tragic in aged care, have been with those residents who are in end of life care, and the balance also have other serious underlying health conditions. And so that creates a further challenge. We've had it from memory around 566 deaths in aged care since our first Omicron case. In the first terrible wave we had back in 2020, there were, there were more, but I suspect there’ll be more now, and that is terrible. And so the booster shot, we encourage people to take. But where families have decided and where individuals have decided not to take it, then it's not for me or the government to tell them about the decisions they're making in that very sensitive time of their life. I've been in that situation, you may have too. They’re they’re sensitive situations where families make decisions, so I'm going to honour and respect their decisions. With aged care, with the boosters, as I said, 99 per cent out there and visiting, and they'll be going back again and encouraging them to get those booster shots. And in the outbreaks themselves, the provision of the testing kits that have been an important part, the acquiring of the additional PPE to support the aged care facilities, I think has been incredibly important in what we've been able to do. Some 12.8 million masks, five million gowns, 14.7 million gloves, 3.6 million goggles and face shields and 7.7 million rapid antigen tests have been sent out there over the course of 2021 to aged care facilities. So that's they're the tools you have to try and ensure that these outcomes don't occur. And that's what we're doing each and every day. People going into these facilities - whether it's the aged care workers, those running the centres or others, making sure we get the workforce. But it's very difficult and it's very challenging. And so we're going to keep fighting away on this and trying to save every life that we can.

 

JOURNALIST: Phil Coorey.

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Laura. Prime Minister, just a quick question. You've talked today about lessons learnt, things you may have done better, and you you had your time again, and so forth. Would you be open to the prospect, should you prevail at the federal election, to some sort of national assessment of how, of the way the nation has handled COVID, like a royal commission or some other enquiry, as Anthony Albanese flagged in this venue a week ago. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, right now we're fighting the pandemic, and that's where I'm very focused. And there'll be a time for that. One of the first things we did in the start of the pandemic, and I offered it to the Leader of the Opposition, is we set up the Senate Enquiry. So we've actually had a Senate Enquiry effectively following and enquiring into our handling of the pandemic right from the start, concurrently. So not something after, we actually set up a parliamentary enquiry. We have, you know, those who are not our, are on our political opponents, who’ve had the opportunity. There have been some 56 hearings of that Committee, some 211 hours of cross-examination of health officials and others who've been involved in our response. So I would say that has set up, I think, a very transparent process. Everything from vaccinations to aged care to the important challenges of addressing the needs in our Indigenous communities. So we have shown right from the outset a preparedness for that to be available. So we're already doing that and have been. What will be required into the future, well, I think we can deal with that at a later time because, right now, I think those two things in place are doing that job - accountability through the Parliament, through the Senate Committee, and us getting on with the job each and every day of fighting this pandemic.

 

JOURNALIST: Sam Maiden.

 

PRIME MINISTER: But, you know, what, we haven't ruled that out Phil, as, to the point. It's just not a decision for now. 

 

JOURNALIST: Samantha Maiden from News.com.au. You made the point that it's pretty tough purchasing property in Australia right now, but it's a lot easier if taxpayers are paying you $291 a night to sleep in your own home, which is how the current system works for MPs. So most of the MPs and Ministers in this room, if they stay tonight, they'll be paid $291 a night to stay, not necessarily in a hotel, but in their own home. Now, if you work for the Defence Force, you're not allowed to do that. It's described as suitable accommodation. You can't claim that money. So how is it fair that you're prepared to pay up to $800 bonus in two tranches to aged care workers who have been literally working among the dying and the dead during the pandemic, but you're going to pay all of these politicians $873 to sleep in their own beds for three nights when they come to Canberra. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, for the record, I only own one home, the one that Jenny and I own back in the Shire. I don't own three homes, I don’t own five. I don't have a problem with owning homes, people investing, trying to do things for their future. That hasn’t been my experience. We've rented all the time I've been here in the Parliament, so this is not something that I've had any direct involvement with. Others may have, and I make no judgment about that.

 

JOURNALIST: Why not?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, because what I would expect to happen is that the independent process that is set up to look at Members’ entitlements - and that's the wrong way to talk about them - that the support that is given to Members and Senators to come and do their job and be here in Canberra and so on, that is done independently of government, and it should be done independently of government. It shouldn't be a matter of of of of of political football. It should be one where those who can look at the circumstances fairly and make judgments about it. And then this is not something that just I have done as a Prime Minister. I think every Prime Minister has done that and certainly has moved towards that to make these decisions, you know, one step removed from politicians …

 

JOURNALIST: So you won’t ask your MPs not to claim the money if they own their own home?

 

PRIME MINISTER: I expect all of my Members and Senators to comply with all the rules that are in place. I do, I expect them to do that.

 

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

 

JOURNALIST: David Crowe.

 

PRIME MINISTER: If those rules need to change, then I'm sure those who are responsible for ensuring those rules are fair and reasonable would bring forward recommendations to that end. That's what I would expect them to do, as that's their job. 

 

JOURNALIST: David Crowe.

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Laura. Thanks, Prime Minister for your speech. David Crowe from The Age in Melbourne and The Sydney Morning Herald. One of the symbolic issues around the summer outbreak for many Australians, a practical and symbolic issue around preparation, was a shortage of rapid antigen tests. What went wrong at the federal level last year? Because you've always said that future waves would arrive, future variants would arrive, there would be new challenges with this pandemic. And yet, there were not enough rapid antigen tests in stock in Australia when that, when that threat arrived over summer. And related to that, do you have any intention, willingness, plan to invest in local manufacturing of rapid antigen tests? And if so, would that actually be able to help ease the shortage before the federal election?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Let me start with the last one. Already happening. It's already happening. I mentioned one of them in my speech today where that's already occurring. There are a couple of companies up in Queensland that as yet haven't received TGA approval for that, and they were the subject of of some issues over in the United States, but the TGA have been working through that, so people can't manufacture something that isn't approved by our regulators. In fact, as I said before, the TGA only first approved first home self-testing of rapid antigen tests on the first of November last year. So prior to that, and in many states, they were actually outlawed. They were outlawed.

 

JOURNALIST: Were the TGA too slow?

 

PRIME MINISTER: The TGA have been doing their job, and they've approved more rapid antigen tests for home testing than they have in the United States. I think some 47 or so tests off the top of my head, and that is a large amount to get through. They've also been approving vaccines, they've been approving oral treatments, they've had a work load like none other. And they're still doing all the other things that aren't related to the pandemic. So no, I wouldn't I wouldn't make that criticism. I think Professor Skerritt and his team have been working under enormous pressure, but having they're not, rapid antigen tests, the medical advice going back to October of 2020, both the CDNA and AHPPC, the medical expert panel, recommended against the use of rapid antigen tests. That happened again in February of 2021. The medical advice to the government was not to use rapid antigen tests, and then we in August commenced a trial and purchased rapid antigen tests for aged care. So we began that in August of last year. As the cases, and then in November, as I said the approval came through on the 5th of November. National Cabinet met soon after that, a few days after that to consider what should then happen. Now,  remember, at that time there was Omicron. The medical advice was that the right testing process was PCR tests, not rapid antigen tests. No medical body, no state government, no one anywhere came forward and said these tests should now be used for this purpose, who were responsible, providing that advice to government, okay. And the reason for that was we were in Delta and we were focused on getting the vaccinations in place because that what was that is what would prevent the transmission because it was effective against transmission. What happened with Omicron is that flipped it completely and it did it within a matter of weeks. And so there had been no suggestion that rapid antigen tests from any official health advisers to the government was was something as a priority over children's vaccinations, over the booster shots, which was our primary tool to stop the spread and enables to go into that summer. Now Omicron changed all that and it changed in almost in an instant. And there were many other complications, particularly for workforce. And those early weeks in December were very difficult because we were trying to get from the medical advice, and there wasn't a lot of data around at that point was is this virus actually less virulent? Is it is it less impacting, severe than the Delta strain? And until we could know that we kept the rules in place around its seven day close contact and all of these things? And that then impacted the workforce. But we hadn't yet got the health advice definitively, and we were asking every meeting because we were meeting weekly and we were saying, is it less severe, is it less severe, and when we learnt that it was, then we could start to address those changes in its seven day arrangements close contacts, essential workforces. Had they not done that then and it had proved to be more severe or as severe, you'd be asking me different questions today. So the rapid antigen test challenge was one that was brought on by the Omicron variant because the PCR tests couldn't keep up with the rapidly increasing cases. There had not been leading up to that time at the end of November an expectation that cases would soar to those levels, under the Delta strain, and under the Delta strain that wouldn't have occurred.

 

JOURNALIST: But anybody would have seen that, that coming wasn't, isn't that the point of government at a state level, at a federal level to plan for that, to plan for another outbreak? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no country did pick that. Which country did?

 

JOURNALIST: The UK had plenty of rapid antigen tests.

 

PRIME MINISTER: This is the difference. The UK had already been dealing with very high case numbers, very, very high case numbers through the Delta strain and the earlier strains. And in the UK, the volume of that challenge had already moved into rapid antigen tests. PCR tests were still the right standard they had to, during the early phases, which Australia did not have to do because we didn't experience the waves that the previous countries had done previously. That was a a step they took in the early strains because the virus had spread far more widely. That didn't happen in Australia, so we could keep using the right tests, the PCR tests. The reliability of rapid antigen tests is not the same as PCR. The South Australian Government has been able to keep their focus on PCR tests, and I commend Steven Marshall for that. They've been able to keep that gold standard. Rapid antigen tests are things that you only go to when you have a volume challenge that we had not had and we would not have had under Delta because of our high rates of vaccination. That's why that wasn't anticipated, but became the issue when Omicron struck. As I said, Omicron was like dealing with a completely different virus. It changed so many of the rules and it had its impact. And that's what we experienced over summer and over the summer, we'd been all working to turn that around. There are more rapid antigen tests available now. There are more treatments available, and the case numbers have been peaking in many of our states and territories, and our supply chains are being restored. 

 

JOURNALIST: Final question is from Greg Brown.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Greg Brown from the Australian. Ahead of the 2019 election, the Coalition like now was in real political trouble and you successfully exploited two advantages. You were a more popular leader than Bill Shorten, and Labor had a lot of big, scary policies for that you tore apart. Three years later, you're an unpopular leader, and Labor has got a small target strategy. So where does the political winner come from? Can we expect, can voters expect tax cuts over and above what's already been announced, or will there be a big spending commitment?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's a similar answer, Greg, to what I gave before. As to our policies and commitments going forward, people know we're a low taxing government, people know we want people to keep more of what they earn. They know that because they're experiencing it. We said we'd do that and we're doing it and they are receiving that now and they're keeping more of what they earn. And so if you want taxes to remain low, then vote Liberal and National, don't vote Labor, because they're form on taxes is the opposite. They've already opened the batting on their higher taxes, and they've already started that. And once they get started, you know, they can't stop when it comes to taxing you. But this election again is a choice, and every election is and this choice isn't about a referendum style choice. A yes and no on the government. It's about do you want the Liberals and Nationals, myself as Prime Minister with our record on economic management and national security, it keeps Australians safe, keeps our economy strong, that pays for the NDIS that pays for aged care that enables us to battle this pandemic. That shows responsibility even when responding to those challenges with the nation's finances, which means your job, your business and all of these things are more secure. Or do you want, Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister and the Labor Party and their policies and their record on having an each way bet on the budget, and each way bet on national security. That is the choice of an election, and Australians will have the time to weigh these things up, and they'll make that decision very carefully. They'll be very aware, I think by the time we get to the election about the world we will face and the country circumstances that we will face in the years ahead. They've been quietly getting about their their lives these last three years. The things that we said we do, we've done, we have. But we will get on with that job and they'll make their judgements about who they think is best able to deliver them a strong economy and a stronger future. And our government's record and my record as Prime Minister and as Treasurer, I think speaks to both of those things. When you talk about experience, well, I've delivered three budgets as Treasurer. I've delivered three budgets as a Prime Minister, with the Treasurer. I've sat around the national security table dealing with some of the biggest challenges this country has faced over the last eight years. I've sat around the Expenditure Review Committee of Budgets for the last seven budgets. That experience counts when it comes to dealing with the challenges that Australia is going to face. And it's not just me. I look around this room at Marise, Peter,  Karen, Angus, Barnaby. I look around the room of people who've been in the trenches battling this pandemic in the hard circumstances we're facing regionally over these last, particularly three years. Standing up for Australia, standing up to those who would seek to injure our interests. It requires strength, it requires a calm experience, and Australians will make that choice. And I'm looking forward to it.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, thanks for your time today. As is often the case, we will be giving you this very nice card as a guest speaker to be a member of the club. 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. 

 

JOURNALIST: And we're just wondering whether you will take up the opportunity of debating Anthony Albanese here or in any other place during the campaign?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's interesting you ask, because I remember standing right here with Bill Shorten and Sabra was, it was over here, was it? And and Sabra asked me, would you agree to have a debates commission? And I said yes. And Bill said yes. Now, Special Minister of State is sitting at the back there, Ben Morton, and he has developed such a proposal and has been working as I'm sure you probably know with the media and and with others, the political parties to seek to establish such a commission. I support it. Anthony Albanese doesn't. So I'm sure there will be debates and we will have to go through the usual process that happens. I think it's better to have an independent process like the one that we were recommending to avoid all those shenanigans and games that opposition leaders like. I don't know why he doesn't support an independent debate commission. I think it's a good idea. I said I'd do it. Bill said he'd do it. Anthony says he won't. 

 

JOURNALIST: Will you do a debate though?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Of course I will. Of course I will. We'll be debating lots.

 

JOURNALIST: Please thank the Prime Minister. 


PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.

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