National Cabinet has not reached consensus on an Australia-wide agreement on how to manage internal borders, despite calls from Qantas and some within the Government’s own ranks.
However, the group of state and territory leaders has agreed to come up with a national standard of what constitutes a COVID-19 hotspot, with some states agreeing to make variations to their border closures.
“When you have restrictions that are being placed on peoples’ movement in the country based on what is and is not a hotspot, there needs to be a clear medical and scientific definition of what that is,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Questions have been raised of the Queensland Government having declared the ACT a hotspot, despite the fact it has not recorded a COVID-19 case in more than a month.
Mr Morrison said some changes had been made at the NSW-Victoria border “particularly in relation to the movement of agricultural workers”.
That comes after revelations Services NSW suggested farmers fly their sheep to Sydney rather than cross the Victoria-NSW border by more conventional means.
Qantas had raised hopes that a nationally consistent approach to state borders would be adopted, after yesterday unveiling a $2 billion loss and bemoaning the fact domestic travel has dried up significantly.
The airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, suggested decisions around border closures were being fuelled more by local politics than health concerns.
Nationals Deputy Leader David Littleproud had said today’s meeting could be a flashpoint for federal relations, pressuring states and territories to come to a more comprehensive border agreement.
Mr Morrison said when National Cabinet next meets, it will consider a code to allow agriculture workers to manage work across borders.
“[It] deals with the practical issues of how those in the agriculture workforce are managing their activities,” he said.
PM rejects suggestion Aged Care Minister should be sacked
This morning, Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck faced questions over his handling of the pandemic in the sector, which has seen over 250 deaths in aged care homes.
He was initially unable to name the death figure, leading to a question being put to Mr Morrison about whether Senator Colbeck should be booted from his portfolio.
“I do have confidence [in Senator Colbeck],” Mr Morrison said.
“This is a very demanding environment in which to be working.
“I know those issues are not far from the Minister’s mind on a minute-by-minute basis.
Mr Morrison announced the continuation of funding for several aged care initiatives, to the tune of $171 million.
It will see more funding for COVID-19 preparedness measures, the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, and the aged care workforce retention payment, which keeps workers from circulating between multiple centres.
States urged to spend big on infrastructure
National Cabinet also received a briefing from economic officials including Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy and Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe.
Dr Lowe, who last week said states should not fret about their credit ratings while spending to stimulate their economies, urged more big spending on infrastructure measures.
Mr Morrison said the advice to leaders had been for states and territories to take advantage of record-low interest rates and invest an additional $40 billion in capital works and infrastructure.
“Right now currently, all of the announced measures of the states and territories are currently sitting in the vicinity of just shy of $48 billion,” Mr Morrison said.
“The debt that will be required to fund that is one that the Reserve Bank governor said can be absorbed by the states and territories.”
More potential help for Aussies abroad
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday said there were still about 19,000 Australians stuck overseas and trying to get home.
But Mr Morrison said “on the balance of risk”, the number of people allowed to return from overseas should remain at 4,000 per week.
However, he foreshadowed greater support for Australians trying to get home from overseas.
“Right now, it is not the wise decision to lift those caps,” he said.
“What I have asked for from the Foreign Affairs Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs and the Defence Minister is they’re bringing forward measures to me and the Treasurer to see how we can better support those who are still overseas.
“Our consular teams are doing a great job to help them in those circumstances, and to assist them to get home within those caps.”