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TRANSCRIPT: PARLIAMENT HOUSE PRESS CONFERENCE, 25 JUNE 2020

Direct News Source

E&OE

Subjects: Qantas, International travel, COVID-19, Roundup;

MICHAEL McCORMACK

A dark day for not only the aviation industry but, indeed, for those 6,000 Qantas family members who've lost jobs. This is so difficult for them. I understand and appreciate, as the Aviation Minister, how difficult this is for Qantas, but how difficult this is for the aviation sector as a whole. We want more than anything a strong and viable aviation sector and I know the decisions taken by Qantas today are in the best interests of their company going forward. 

That said, it is very, very hard. These members of the Qantas Group who will lose their jobs are like a family. They are. And for them it is going to be so, so difficult not knowing their futures. And I understand, I have absolute empathy for them. I know what it's like to lose a job and to not know what the future holds and for those Qantas employees, the fortunate thing for them is that they are true professionals. The good thing for them is that they have been very, very good at their jobs and hopefully there will be other jobs for them in the future and perhaps with Qantas, as the sector rebounds. But for them, it is still going to be very, very difficult. 

And I understand that for Qantas going forward, aviation has been hit first and hit hardest. Yes, they have benefited from the $1.3 billion of aviation sector-wide assistance that we have provided as a Government. I've been in constant daily discussions with Qantas and with other airlines, of course Virgin, to see what we can do as far as providing the assistance for those regional networks, those domestic trunk routes, international repatriation flights and indeed, the air freight assistance mechanism so that we can get agricultural products to those markets. 

But it is a very difficult day for aviation. I understand that for those Qantas employees, 6,000 in total, for them it is the hardest pill to swallow and my thoughts go to them. We will do, as a Government, all we can to obviously provide assistance for not only them but indeed, for the aviation sector as a whole going forward. Of course, Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer and Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister will stand up on July 23 to outline the economic plan going forward because, of course, JobKeeper is scheduled to finish at the end of September and we will see what assistance measures we will need to do to help not just aviation but indeed, the economy. 

Fortunately, of course, we have retained our AAA credit rating and of course, overnight the economic outlook internationally has Australia positioned very well. But that's very cold comfort, of course, for those 6,000 people who have lost their jobs and of course, we have to think of them today and make sure that we provide every bit of care and support for them. 

JOURNALIST

Alan Joyce said that there'll be about 15,000 people that will remain stood down until the end of the year. Is that something that's going to impact the discussions regarding the need for some kind of support post-JobKeeper, post-September for this sector in particular, that number, 15,000, who have been stood down?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, in short yes because, of course, those 15,000 who are actually at the moment stood down, for them the planes aren't in the air and so if the planes aren't in the air there's not the necessary need for them to be able to be fully engaged with their employer, nor to be able to be fully engaged with those clients who have used Qantas's service of course. 

Qantas is 100 years old this year. It's the centenary of Qantas this year. It should have been a very special time for Qantas celebrating 100 years of achievement, the oldest continuous airline in the world. And of course, as we know, the aviation industry operates on very slim margins. It is a very, very difficult business at the best of times to make ends meet, let alone when you have a global pandemic that has shut down international flights, that has largely shut down aviation. And so for Qantas this has been a very difficult decision to take and make. 

For Qantas they've made their decision, of course, to help their company restructure and recapitalise going forward and to protect the jobs that will still be engaged and connected to the company. If they didn't make this decision today and didn't make this announcement today, who knows what might have happened to the other 24,000 people who are still on Qantas's books going forward from here. So we need to remember that. We need to remember that Qantas is a big employer. It has been a great Australian company. It will go on being a great Australian company and the Government will, of course, be in close contact with Qantas, with the CEO Alan Joyce, with the aviation sector as a whole to see what assistance that we can provide going forward. 

JOURNALIST

So what sort of assistance will you provide beyond the end of JobKeeper for the aviation sector?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course, this decision has been announced this morning and the Prime Minister, who is in Sydney today making an important announcement for another sector which has been very hard hit, the arts and entertainment sector, these are things which we are discussing on a daily basis, whether it's through Cabinet, whether it's through the Expenditure Review Committee, we are meeting stakeholders each and every hour of each and every day talking with them. 

This is a global pandemic. Australia has been cushioned from the effects of this global downturn because of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker announcements and provisions that we have made. We have guaranteed our AAA credit rating. I say again that whilst that is very good and whilst our health and economic outcomes through the COVID crisis have been very, very good, it is still cold comfort for those 6,000 people who have lost their jobs. And we understand just how difficult that is and we understand also aviation, whilst it was hit first and hardest out of COVID-19, it's not the only sector. Qantas is not the only business that has been really rocked to its core by COVID-19. 

Right across Australia businesses have been very hard hit. That's why they're fortunate that they've got a Government there who have had their backs. That's why it's very fortunate that through the National Cabinet process we've been able to keep the mortality rates very, very low and the case rates at world record levels. But still, I have great empathy for those 6,000 people today. 

JOURNALIST

With these job losses and flights that have been grounded, is this going to impact regional Australia at all?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, of course Qantas has to make the decisions that it has taken today to ensure that coming out of the back of COVID-19 that as border restrictions are eased and as flights resume that it can keep as many people engaged with the company and get planes back in the air as soon as possible. And so, again, the call is there for State Premiers to look very closely at their border restrictions, because it is restricting aviation. It is keeping people from flying interstate and it is costing jobs and it is costing billions of dollars. So, again, the call is there to ensure that those border restrictions are eased so that companies like Qantas can get back in the air as soon as possible. That's essential. 

JOURNALIST

But do you know if this is going to affect flights into regional areas at all?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it could, it could affect flights right across Australia and whether it's Virgin, whether it is in fact Qantas, whatever the case might be, yes, regional flights have been affected. That's why we've put in place the regional air network services to ensure that those many, many country centres received flights, receive personal protection equipment, receive respiratory devices and receive face masks and most importantly, doctor services and frontline medical personnel. That's why I've extended those regional air network services arrangements until December 31. 

That's why I've extended, of course, the domestic air services as well. We need to make sure that we've got flights going to and from those centres, but again I say that the Premiers can also help this process by lifting those border restrictions. They're not necessary. They're costing jobs and they're costing planes being in the air. 

JOURNALIST

Minister, what sort of timeline are we looking at, because the unions and the airline industry both say that certainty is crucial here? When can we anticipate an announcement from the Government about what sort of assistance will be offered?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, on July 23 the Treasurer and the Finance Minister will stand up and make announcements as to what our plans are. Of course, we are encountering a situation which is changing by the day. We're encountering a COVID situation which is moving very rapidly. This time last week, we were very much on top of it, that the curve was very much flattening. Of course, now we have had outbreaks in Victoria. We've had an AFL game postponed. We've had an outbreak in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. And those make it very difficult for Governments when we're trying to ease restrictions when State Governments, State jurisdictions and Premiers are trying to ease restrictions as far as social distancing and getting businesses back open, this is costing money. 

And so people need to download the COVIDSafe app, exercise social distancing, make sure that for those people in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, in those potential hotspots, they need to stay at home. They need to go back to where we were when restrictions were first placed and Professor Brendan Murphy was urging people, where possible, to work from home and to stay at home. They need to do that again, not just for their own sakes but for the benefit of Victorians generally and Australians as well. 

JOURNALIST

Mr McCormack, does this change your thinking around travel bubbles? Do you see a need now to accelerate planning there?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I do say that border restrictions, interstate border restrictions should be eased. I've said that for a long time now and it is actually costing jobs, and there is no need for it. But for those hotspots where we have had COVID outbreaks and we have had to provide, indeed, military assistance overnight, those people need to stay at home and those people need to follow the rules, the maximum number of people in a room, because they are actually costing people their jobs. They're costing people their livelihoods and they need to be their best selves so that others can get on with their lives. 

So many people have been so good for so long, downloading the app, exercising social distancing, not getting in mass gatherings, quite apart from the protests of course, but this has actually stopped the flow of coronavirus. This has stemmed the tide. We had the curve flattened and now people, because they didn't do the right thing, we've now got another spike. So we need to, for those areas, for those hotspots, they need to follow what Daniel Andrews has actually asked them to do. They need to actually follow what Professor Brendan Murphy is asking them to do and stay confined in their own area so that they don't spread it. And also get themselves tested. Not hard. Not difficult to do. Just do the right thing. 

JOURNALIST

What about overseas travel?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, overseas travel of course, you know, will happen when say New Zealand and Australia can reach an agreement. That would be, I would imagine, the first Trans-Tasman bubble, the first international bubble that may be set up. But, again, that's going to come to the two jurisdictions, the two countries reaching agreement. International travel is going to be affected for a long, long time and we all know that and that is one of the reasons why Qantas has made the decision it has taken this morning to unfortunately, shed 6,000 jobs. 

That's why international travel is very much dicey and of course, when travel restrictions are eased, of course people then have to have the confidence to go back on flights. You know, it is going to be a long haul. It is going to be a very slow process and that's why this coming summer, never a better time to actually holiday at home. Stay at home because there won't be the international flights available. Stay at home and enjoy all the great benefits Australia has to offer and indeed, all the great benefits that regional Australia has to offer. 

JOURNALIST

Minister, just quickly, the US pharmaceutical giant, Bayer, is apparently going to spend up to $10 billion settling lawsuits relating to the use of Roundup. Should farmers in Australia be concerned about using Roundup?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, look, Roundup has been used for generations. And used according to the specifications on the back of the product and used in moderation, it has been very effective at ensuring that we have weed eradication but, indeed, agricultural growth. We need to make sure that any of those products are used according to the specifications on the labels. And whilst I appreciate that there are court decisions taken and made, that is a matter for the US courts. If the product is available in Australia, it's being sold and people are using it according to the specifications, they should be okay. 

JOURNALIST

But it's the same product, isn't it, Minister?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Yes, sure, but I mean how this started was that somebody in America who, as I understand, was using it on a basis whereby absolutely almost getting bathed in it. I'm not sure of the exact details of the case. I know that they've made a decision. That decision would not have been taken lightly but I'm not going to stand here and say that Roundup should be banned. I know it has been very good for farmers who have used it safely and wisely. And I say again, if they use it according to the specifications listed on the back of the product, then they should be right and should they, of course, come down with something that's similar to the fellow in America did, well, they need to take up the necessary communication with the company that makes the product. 

JOURNALIST

What's the sort of the Government's, I guess, tolerance to how long it is prepared to sort of extend support to these sectors sort of, I mean, is it a case until the international borders are open and then they're cut loose or [inaudible].

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We'll make decisions based on our advice from, of course, the stakeholders. And of course, any assistance we are providing, whether it's for aviation, arts and entertainment, agriculture, whatever the case might be, it's borrowed money. So it has got to be paid back. It's taxpayers' money. It's borrowed money. We have to use it wisely. We are using it wisely. We're using it to ensure that we cushion the economy from the effects of COVID-19. 

Now, we want people back in the air. We want people back flying again, and we want those 15,000 employees who are at the moment stood down from Qantas back working again. Of course we would like to see Qantas back to, eventually, its 30,000-strong family of employees, employees who have been very professional, very hard working and very diligent at their jobs. It's an absolute tragedy today that 6,000 of them have been told that they are no longer required for Qantas

JOURNALIST

But can you envisage a situation where handouts to companies go, to all sectors go for like up to three years? 

MICHAEL McCORMACK

We'll monitor the situation. As I say, we've had COVID since late January, early February. We've provided the assistance when and where required. We have ensured that we've kept the mortality rate very low. The case rate is at 7,500, the envy of the world. And we've also made sure that we've conditioned our economy such that it is also one of the very best in the world and one of the very strongest per capita in the world according to Moody's and according to other international economic outlooks. We want to make sure that there are jobs for people, whether in aviation or any sector, right across the economy going forward. And we'll do that. We'll monitor it by day. We'll make sure that we make the right announcements at the right time for the right people and those right people are people who work in the aviation sector, people who work in mining, agriculture, whatever the sector might be, we have made the necessary arrangements and we'll continue to do that. 

JOURNALIST

Just carrying on from my first question there regarding ongoing support, do you agree that it is definitely going to be needed for the aviation sector and for conditions after September, given there's going to be at least 15,000 people who are still to be stood down until the end of the year who will be relying on some kind of support as they have been over the last two months?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again the decision has been taken and made this morning by Qantas. I'll be having discussions with the Prime Minister and Treasurer and Finance Minister this afternoon. We will make the necessary announcements at the right and appropriate time. These are difficult days and – 

JOURNALIST

Do you personally think there needs to be support [inaudible]?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, again, we want planes back in the air as soon as possible. Border restrictions aren't helping. We want planes to be flying domestically. We want planes to be flying regionally. Indeed, we want planes to be flying internationally. We have to do the right thing by Australians. We have done all along. We've provided $1.3 billion of assistance for the aviation sector. We, indeed, will keep revisiting that assistance and not only to the aviation sector, but all sectors to make the right decisions going forward. Thank you very much.

This press release was sourced from Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack on 29-Jun-2020.