Nicolle Flint MP

Source: Prime Minister of Australia

Nicolle Flint has been an invaluable member of the Liberal team and my government.

Nicolle has been a strong champion for Boothby and South Australia in the Liberal Party Room and the Federal Parliament.

I want to thank Nicolle for her service to the Federal Parliament, particularly in her role as a Deputy Whip and her committee work, and for her service to her community.

Nicolle has delivered not just on local projects like the Oaklands Crossing and the Flinders Link Rail, but also in her advocacy for people battling endometriosis and managing the loss felt from stillbirth.

The public attention from being a Parliamentarian does sometimes attract unacceptable behaviour, and I have admired Nicolle’s efforts to stand against the bullying and nastiness of particular groups and individuals.

Throughout those experiences however, Nicolle has kept a laser focus on her community and delivering for the people of Boothby and South Australia.

Nicolle is an impressive and passionate Parliamentarian who was the first woman elected to represent Boothby, and she has brought strong experience from her previous career to the role.

I look forward to continuing to work with Nicolle through the remainder of this term of Parliament, and to ensure we put forward a Liberal candidate who brings the same high-calibre qualities to the people of Boothby as she has.

I wish her all the best for what comes next.

US officials visit domestic manufacturing of explosive ordnance facilities

Source: Australia Department of Defence

Representatives from the United States Department of Defense have this week visited the Australian-owned munitions production factories in Mulwala in NSW, and Benalla in VIC.
Head Land Systems, Major General Andrew Bottrell said senior Defence representatives from the Australian Army and the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group hosted representatives from the US Embassy’s Office of Defense Co-operation at the two Government-owned munitions factories over two days.

ACCC proposes to re-authorise Qantas-American Airlines alliance

Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

The ACCC is proposing to re-authorise the alliance between Qantas Airways Limited (ASX: QAN) and American Airlines Inc. for a further five years.

The alliance enables Qantas (and Jetstar) to cooperate with American Airlines on Trans-Pacific routes between Australia/New Zealand and the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“The ACCC considers the public benefits from this alliance are likely to continue under this re-authorisation,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

“Passengers travelling on Trans-Pacific routes could benefit through enhanced products and services, including a greater likelihood of increased capacity and new routes; increased connectivity and improved schedule choice. Loyalty program benefits and improved lounge access, cost savings and efficiencies are also likely to be a result.”

The ACCC considers that the extent to which these public benefits are likely to be realised depends on the rate of recovery in demand for Trans-Pacific services following the COVID-19 pandemic. The greater the demand for these services, the greater the public benefit that is likely to be realised.

Authorisation will allow the two airlines to coordinate on a range of matters, including marketing and sales, freight, pricing, scheduling, distribution strategies including agency arrangements, yield and inventory management, frequent flyer programs, lounges, joint procurement and product and service standards.

“The alliance is unlikely to result in any significant public detriment, because the ACCC considers that American Airlines would be unlikely to operate its own Trans-Pacific services (or materially expand its Trans-Pacific capacity and frequency) in the absence of its alliance with Qantas,” Ms Court said.

The ACCC has also granted interim authorisation to allow the airlines to continue their alliance beyond 18 March 2018, when their current authorisations (91502 and A91503) are due to expire.

The ACCC is now seeking submissions from interested parties in relation to the draft determination. The draft determination and more information on how to make a submission are available on the ACCC public register at Qantas & American Airlines.

Background

The ACCC first authorised an alliance between Qantas and American Airlines for five years in 2011 and re-authorised the alliance in 2016.

Qantas and American Airlines have sought authorisation from the ACCC because the alliance involve conduct that would risk breaching the Competition and Consumer Act 2001.

Notes to editors

ACCC authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the likely public benefit from the conduct outweighs any likely public detriment.

HMAS Sheean tours Tasmania

Source: Australia Department of Defence

Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Sheean will visit Beauty Point in northern Tasmania later this week, the first in a series of port visits to the state.
Navy Commander of Submarines, Captain Doug Theobald CSC RAN, said the Collins Class submarine would visit four Tasmanian ports in coming months, including Hobart, Burnie and Devonport.

Press Conference – Penrith, NSW

Source: Prime Minister of Australia

Melissa McIntosh, Federal Member for Lindsay: Hello everyone, welcome to Penrith and what a great news story this is. Prime Minister, to Minister Andrews, Minister Payne, and Anthony Pratt, I’m so proud that we are backing manufacturing in Western Sydney, and in my community and now we’ve got Visy coming in to Penrith. And that is great news. Anthony and I had a conversation about how much we both want to back Australian manufacturing and I’m really really pleased that Anthony and Visy is in Western Sydney, more local jobs, and we are getting manufacturing back in Australia.

Anthony, would you like to say a few words? Thank you very much.

Anthony Pratt, Executive Chairman of Visy Industries: Welcome Prime Minister, it’s an honour to have you at Visy Glass Penrith. The Prime Minister through his great economic leadership has initiated a renaissance in Australian manufacturing. Which means more skilled jobs and higher wages. The coronavirus has reinforce manufacturing self sufficiency. Visy applauds the Prime Minister’s six sector manufacturing focus, including our two sectors, recycling and clean energy, and food and beverage manufacturing. Spurred on by this, Visy is proud to have made the biggest Australian manufacturing acquisition of 2020, a $1 billion deal to make glass bottles. Today we are pledging to invest and additional $2 billion over the next 10 years which will create thousands of new green collar, well paying manufacturing jobs, and bring our total investment value in Australia to $11 billion dollars. Now, $380 million of that investment has been brought forward over the next 18 months because of the government’s accelerated depreciation policy. It’ll be spent increasing the recycled content of glass bottles in Australia from 30 percent to 70 percent, including offering councils a glass recycling bin. It will also be reducing landfills by building another clean energy plant in Victoria that runs on paper mill rejects, converting also our Brisbane paper mill to running on paper mill projects that were previously going to landfill, a drum pulper in Victoria to use waste paper, previously going to landfill, and doubling our one hundred percent recycled plastics factory in New South Wales, as well as water recycling projects to reduce water usage at our recycled paper mills by 40 percent. These initiatives will not only reduce landfills but also increase the recycled content of our customer’s packaging, which we call remanufactured right here in Australia. So thank you again, Prime Minister, for your great leadership. Thank you. 

Prime Minister: Well, thank you, Anthony. And to all the wonderful Visy team here in western Sydney and indeed right around the country. On Sunday, I joined Jane Malysiak, one of Australia’s many migrants who have come to this country, to get a shot in the arm, to give us the boost to come out of the covid-19 pandemic. I’m now joined by Anthony Pratt, one of Australia’s great migrant families, and he’s given us a shot in the arm when it comes to Australia’s comeback, economic comeback from the covid-19 recovery. Anthony and and Visy are a great Australian company, and it’s on display around us here. Their vote of confidence in western Sydney, their vote of confidence in Australia gives us the great confidence, I think, to continue the economic recovery that is underway in Australia. It is born of both his vision for Australia and how he sees his company’s role in the future of this country, as they always have. But as he said, it’s also born of the policy settings we’ve put in place as a government to encourage exactly this type of a commitment and exactly this type of investment. We just saw yesterday that the non mining investment figures that we saw coming back in the December quarter shows a turnaround. We saw an almost 5 per cent increase in new investment in plant and equipment. I was with the Advanced Manufacturing Taskforce out here in western Sydney that Melissa has brought together, out here in western Sydney to translate our modern manufacturing strategy on the ground here in western Sydney. And Visy’s announcement today, through Anthony just totally backs this in. It backs in the jobs, it backs in the technology, it backs in the investment, it backs in Australia. And for that Anthony, I’m truly grateful for your belief in where we’re going as a country. The other thing it does, though, is it connects with our government’s absolute commitment to boost our circular economy industries here in Australia, our recycling industries here in Australia. We are very serious about this. And to see Visy, who is a world leader in the circular economy here and particularly in the United States as well. And as we learned today, when you use recycled glass, it reduces the amount of energy you need in the process to make those jars and those bottles by one third. So it’s not only great for the circular economy, it’s also great for reducing emissions. 

So what we see here today is just so many things coming together. Our belief in western Sydney. The jobs that are going to come from the economic comeback from the COVID-19 recession, what we see is the policies of the government working to deliver the investment on the ground, to see the investment in new plant and equipment, which wins contracts and create jobs. And it sees the investments going into industries that are reducing emissions and making Australia a cleaner and more environmentally sustainable place. That’s quite a package, and that is all being brought together. And it’s happening here in Australia, we’ve been making things in Australia for a very long time. And we’re making them now and we’re going to keep making them in the future. We’re making them here in western Sydney on this very site for a very long time. We are going to keep making them here in western Sydney as a result of the policies we’ve put in place. 

So it’s very exciting to be here. I’m joined by Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry. She’ll speak in a moment. And she has been leading our Modern Manufacturing Strategy. 

But before I do that, I want to make a comment on another very important issue, and that is the passing of Sir Michael Somare, the first Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. He has been over the course of his amazing life, the champion of the sovereignty and independence of the people of Papua New Guinea. I consider the people of Papua New Guinea our family, always have. I have been in contact this morning with Prime Minister Marape, James, my very good friend, and passed on to him and to Lady Veronica, our deepest condolences and sympathies for the Papua New Guinean people. There will be great mourning across Papua New Guinea, from the lowlands to the highlands, to the villages, to the cities. Sir Michael was an extraordinary man of his generation. He was the light of his generation, which has lighted up the path for Papua New Guineans today and into the future. And so I just want to honour him in his passing and reaffirm Australia’s great friendship- more than friendship, our family relationship with the people of Papua New Guinea. 

I’m going to ask Karen to say a few words and then we’re very happy to take questions.

The Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology: Thank you, Prime Minister. And of course, my deepest sympathies to the people of Papua New Guinea. 

Anthony Pratt gets manufacturing. He would not be investing billions of dollars here if he did not see a future in Aussie manufacturing. Scott Morrison gets manufacturing, the Morrison government gets manufacturing. And that’s why we are well underway, delivering the modern manufacturing strategy, which names six key priority areas, Visy is leading in two of those areas. Firstly, recycling and clean energy and of course, the work that they do with food and beverage manufacturing of the packaging. So with the opening of these rounds, what we are doing as a government is driving investment in manufacturing here in Australia. That is going to be underpinned by the work that we are doing across the significant economic pillars of industrial relations, of tax, and particularly what we are doing with driving energy prices down. This is really the start of the manufacturing recovery here in Australia. Congratulations to Visy. I thank you so much for your commitment. This means so much to us here in Australia, and I’m sure it means a lot for the workers here of Visy. Thank you. 

Prime Minister: So, as usual, if we could address, while we are here today, I’m happy to take questions on that. And I’m sure Anthony’s happy to take questions on Visy’s role here. And then I’m happy to take questions on other matters. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, on this investment, it’s only as good as the jobs it creates. Underemployment is still a bit of a sore point for some people. Some million people are underemployed. Want more hours? Is that something your government is concerned about in the COVID bounce back? 

Prime Minister: Absolutely. And that’s why our policies are in place to address just that. We’re seeing underemployment falling. We’re seeing unemployment falling. We’re seeing the number of people on JobKeeper in this quarter alone, people coming off JobKeeper, again, far more than we’d anticipated. We saw that in the last quarter as well. You know, we’re seeing apprentices in work. We have almost 60,000 apprentices here in New South Wales right now who are in those jobs right now because of the apprenticeship subsidies we have put in place during the COVID-19 recession, 58,000 thereabouts here in New South Wales right now. We met some apprentices here today, but they are specifically supported; they are in small businesses, they are medium sized businesses. When we went into the covid-19 pandemic, one of the first initiatives we took economically was to say we’ve got to support those apprentices because they would have been the first to go and all the training and all the hard work all the commitment, you know their parents encouraging them to get a trade and go and take that decision. And we want to see more Australians do that. And I hope those who may be considering a trade and going into an apprenticeship take a message from that, that our government believes in you taking on that apprenticeship and sticking at that apprenticeship. And why at the greatest risk to apprentices being driven out of the workforce, we stepped up and made sure that apprentices could stay in jobs. And as the recovery has begun, we’re getting new apprentices into jobs. So I understand from Visy that their investments here, we’re talking thousands of jobs. We’re talking thousands of jobs here. How many? Well, it’s you know, that is going to continue to be driven by the effective outpouring of that investment and the bringing forward of some over $350 million. That’s right, isn’t it Anthony, over $350 million. And that involves about $100 million specifically right here in this very plant, as I understand it. So that is what’s going to get people back into work. That’s what’s going to keep apprentices in work and that’s what’s going to get more hours. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, Visy are one of Australia’s largest private companies. They’ve got the confidence to invest $2 billion dollars. What about smaller businesses, though? Are they looking to invest long term in the context of border closures, which can shut things down at the drop of a hat? 

Prime Minister: Well, what I was excited about today with Melissa McIntosh, the member for Lindsay is she has brought together an advanced manufacturing taskforce to translate what Karen and I are doing at a national level. She’s making sure it’s delivering here on a local level. Just like she is on Dunheved Road and Mulgoa Road and the extra MRI machines out here in western Sydney, which I know Marise Payne’s thrilled about as well as a resident of western Sydney and Patron Senator for a long time. So she’s delivering on the ground for those local, small and medium sized businesses here as part of this strategy. And, you know, whether I’m here in western Sydney or I’m up in north Queensland or out in outback Queensland or anywhere else in the country, down in Victoria, I’m walking into shop floor after shop floor. And what I’m seeing is new equipment. And that’s what those CAPEX figures from yesterday was demonstrating, that, this is small and medium sized businesses. I walk in and the first thing they say to me is, let me show you this new whizz bang bit of kit we’ve got here on the floor and I’ll go over there. And there’s lots of buttons and there’s lot there’s lasers in there. There’s all sorts of things. I don’t know what it means or how it works, but they do and it’s massively improving their productivity. So, yes, I’m excited that we’re seeing small and medium sized and large businesses like Visy invest more. And that’s great for the economy. But it also has a long term benefit because it means those businesses are more able, they’ve got better kit, they’ve got up to date care. And the accelerated depreciation, the tax incentives for investment are working. Our plan for economic recovery is working. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, what can you tell us about a situation with vials of Pfizer going to an aged care home, St Vincent’s aged care home in Werribee, in Victoria? Has there been some kind of stuff up? What details do you know about it?

Prime Minister: Well we are 4 days, today’s day five of a nine-month rollout of vaccination. I can tell you that over 90 aged care facilities have now been supported through those vaccinations. I can tell you that some 23,000 Australians already, as at the end of day four, have been able to receive those vaccinations. And in the early days where there are logistical difficulties, where there is anything of that nature, and indeed with the cases of the increased doses that were applied up in Queensland, I’m very pleased to hear that both of those individuals are well and one has actually returned to their facility I understand today. But where issues arise, they are quickly dealt with, they’re identified, they’re worked through. You’d expect that with any vaccination programme of this scale. And so where things don’t go completely to plan, they’re quickly addressed, as you’ve seen happen this this week. And that’s why it’s so important that where things of this nature occur, it’s important that I provide that reassurance that these things are addressed. And I think for all leaders to do the same thing. The vaccination programme could not be more important to Australia’s future. And as we continue to roll it out, where there are things that are learnt in the early phases, they will be applied to ensure the most important thing, and that is the safety of Australians and the safety of this vaccine. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, you must know you must know from your own experience, you’ve had family members in nursing homes and many people here have and to get cancelled on at the last minute. We’ve seen more cases of it today in Sydney and Victoria and Brisbane, that’s very anxiety inducing for our frail Australians?

Prime Minister: As I said, over 90 aged care facilities have already had the vaccination,

Journalist: Out of 240. 

Prime Minister: And there’ll be more. And the Health Minister will update on when we get to those numbers. We’re in day four of a nine month programme, and each day as that rolls out, it’ll continue to improve. We said it would start slow and it would get to a pace and a scale, and that’s exactly where we’re heading. So I would say to those families to not be anxious about that, that in the early phases, if there are logistical issues that arise with the programme, they’ll be quickly addressed and then they’ll soon be followed up and the vaccinations will arrive. And over the course of a number of days if necessary, if it takes that long, then that’ll be rectified. People are working hard to deliver this on the ground. This is mobilising quite a national effort. It’s mobilising a state and territory effort as well. And that’s why I’m absolutely confident that as we go from day to day, the lessons of each day will only make the system better, more improved. But at all times, at all times, safety is the paramount issue. 

Journalist: [inaudible] in relation to Kate Jenkins the sexual harassment commissioner, [inaudible]?

Prime Minister:  You’re talking about the Respect at Work?

Journalist: Yep.

Prime Minister: Respect at Work, do you want to address that Marise?

Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. The Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s report, Respect at Work, is a groundbreaking piece of work, in the Women’s Economic Security Statement, which was released in October last year. We began the implementation process of a number of those recommendations, particularly including the establishment of the Respect at Work Council, which will be chaired by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner herself. The recommendations across I think there are 55 of them across a broad range of areas cover government, they cover business, they cover industry. They cover state and territory authorities and a number of regulatory agencies, both Commonwealth and state and territory. The Attorney General who has responsibility for the implementation of the report, is working through that process. Amanda Stoker has now taken on responsibility for, as the newly appointed assistant minister for the bringing together of all of those bodies in the recommendations as they’ve set out in the respect at work report. And we look forward to making the government response as soon as possible. 

Journalist: [inaudible]?

Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, I think the Women’s Economic Security Statement actually covers 9 of those recommendations, and they are the ones which the Commonwealth was able to respond to in the context of the Budget and the WESS itself. The rest, as I say, are very multilayered. This is a whole of Australia workplace issue. We don’t need to be reminded, but we have been reminded very, very acutely in the last two weeks of the importance of the work that has been done by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner. An unsafe workplace is unsafe for everyone. Nobody should have to work in that environment. And we are very focussed on bringing those recommendations together and implementing them through the government reporting process. 

Journalist: Prime Minister, has Phil Gaetjens spoken to your office about his report? Has he given you any indication of when it’s going to be finalised, whether you’re going to share those results? 

Prime Minister: I can give you the same answer I gave to the house yesterday, it was the same questions. No, I don’t have a firm timing on when that report, I expect it to be provided to me at the earliest possible opportunity. And and, yes, he has been making engagements with my office to follow up those matters. And when I receive that report, I can report further.

Journalist: Pfizer’s given some updated, sorry, Pfizer’s given some updated information on cold storage for their, for their vials, have you spoken to them or are you across those details will it make them,

Prime Minister: Yeah I am, look this is this is potentially exciting news. There’s been an approval from Pfizer for cold storage, which, as we know, has to be under the prior approval of I think sub-71 degrees. And as part of our contract with Pfizer, that included dealing with the cold chain logistics for the delivery of those doses. Now, they’re saying that can now be done at a refrigerated temperature. As I understand it. Now, our approval to use the Pfizer vaccine in Australia is not based on federal approvals in the United States or in Europe or anywhere else. It’s provided by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration. Now, I’m aware today the Minister for Health has been in contact with Professor Skerritt about that matter. And, of course, the TGA will consider that at the earliest possible opportunity, and has asked Pfizer to bring forward what has been provided on that so they can consider it. And in doing so, I’d remind you, because it goes to my earlier comments. I remember Professor Skerritt saying that having approved a vaccine, he said, the work has just begun. It hasn’t concluded. And what we’re learning with the vaccine and the vaccination rollout is there are always things to add. There are always things to learn from. And there is new science. There are new findings. We’re already seeing whether out of the United Kingdom or Europe or Israel or the United States, we’re seeing some very, very positive results, which is improving our level of confidence, not reducing it. And so that’s why just focussing on the day to day tasks of the vaccination is what my government is focussed on. It’s what the state governments are focussed on. It’s what the health and medical industry is focussed on, to just continue to do it safely. And every piece of new information we can gain to improve that is very, very welcome. But I just want to assure Australians that the doses of vaccine that are provided in Australia are done on the basis of Australia’s medical experts approving those vaccines and not just their chemistry, but their manufacturing as well and how that is done. And so Professor Skerritt is the same head of the TGA that approves those vaccines, that approves the vaccines that we take our children to. And we trust them to provide those vaccines.

Journalist: Prime Minister, the Australian government believes that it won this round with the tech giants vs the Australian government, and is the legislation really worth it now that we’ve got deals being struck outside the media code, and what industry is next now that media is out of the way? To make these tech giants as you say, pay their fair share?

Prime Minister: Well, you know, Australia under my government always stands up for itself. We always do that. We have a great and strong belief in Australia’s sovereignty and where we think, where we think that is being compromised or under challenge, then I can assure you my government will always step up. Now, in this case, it’s been an issue we’ve been involved in for some time, whether it’s getting them to pay more tax, their fair share of their tax, whether it’s ensuring that the rules that exist in the digital world are as strong as those that exist in the physical world. And that’s everything from a safety ensuring that our vulnerable Australians, particularly children, are not exposed to violent and sexual content, ensuring that terrorist incitement content is dealt with. We have led the charge on all of these issues, as we indeed have with the big global tech giants when it comes to not paying Australian news services, what they should be paid to support our independent media sector. The code was critical to ensuring that the arrangements that have now been struck between the global tech giants and those media companies so Australians can have a free media, that was essential for that. But, you know, my answer to the broader question is what I want in the digital world is I want the rules there, the safety there, the protections that are, there that exist in the real world. I want that to exist in the digital world. Global tech giants, you know they’re changing the world. But we can’t let them run the world. You know, people in free societies like Australia who go to ballot boxes and who go and they vote, that’s who should run the world. The people and citizens of the nations of the world, not big global tech giants. They produce amazing technology that does amazing things. We’ve seen the impact of technology here in this very place, and it’s exciting. But at the end of the day, all of these things must be accountable to sovereign elected governments, which means that at the end of the day, Australians should be in charge. 

Journalist: The final report of the Aged Care Royal Commission has been officially handed down. I don’t know if you’ve had time to be briefed on it yet, but have you or what do you expect? 

Prime Minister: Well, I called the Royal Commission into aged care as one of my first acts as Prime Minister because I was deeply distressed at many of the things that had been reported to me. And having been a member of Parliament for some time and worked in my own local community, aware of the great challenges that were facing that sector. I said at the time of calling the Royal Commission that above all, we needed to establish a culture of respect for older Australians in both how we provide care and how they lived through that portion of their lives, because fundamentally many problems can stem from a lack of that respect. So I called the Royal Commission knowing full well that it would be, it would be candid that it would provide very raw advice to governments and to all Australians and to state governments as well. All of us where we have responsibilities. But obviously the federal government has the primary responsibility here. So I did that because I wanted to know and so I expect to receive a copy of that report today, and I will spend the weekend working through that carefully, and I will be together with the Health Minister and the Aged Care Services Minister providing an interim response soon after. And, of course, the substantive response, which I have pledged on behalf of my government, that will come as part of the Budget process this year. Its timing, I think, is well placed to ensure that we can incorporate that in our response in this year’s budget. But I will say, as the Royal Commission has gone on, the government has not sat idle. When I came to the job of Prime Minister, we were investing an extra $1 billion dollars every single year in aged care, and we’re now investing an additional billion and a half dollars every year in aged care services and out over the forward estimates we have tripled the number of in-home aged care places. And in fact, right now the number of in-home aged care places has been extended from our most recent announcement in December, is rolling out at an extra 1,200 a week. 1,200 a week. The aged care quality commission oversight, ensuring that people are safe and protected, that their rights are respected, that they are respected. That is why I called the Royal Commission. This Royal Commission, I think, will identify serious, serious and disturbing issues that are a product of decades, decades. And it’s important that I think the government is then supported by the parliament right across all parties. And we get on with the things that we need to do to address the recommendations that are put to government. So I look forward to hopefully a bipartisan, a multi partisan approach to us addressing those issues. And this issue is about our family members. It’s about individual Australians and the way we deal with this it has to be beyond politics. We have to focus on getting the solutions right. Having called the Royal Commission, I’m committed to addressing the many issues that I’m sure will be raised in it. Anyway, thank you all very much. Good to be with you.

Prime Minister’s SpellingBee

Source: Australian Ministers for Education

Prime Minister’s SpellingBee

Bryce Logan
Fri, 02/26/2021 – 13:58

Media Release

Schools are being encouraged to get involved in this year’s Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee to promote literacy in an entertaining and engaging way.

This year the spelling bee, hosted by Kids News, will be conducted through a digital format rather than face to face.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged all schools to get involved and register. “Literacy is so critical to a young person’s education in Australia. It provides the fundamental base to develop other skills, and the tools to embrace the joy of reading and writing,” the Prime Minister said.

“This is free competition that is fun and exciting and will help students learning literacy build their confidence.”

Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge said the spelling bee would help nurture a love of words in students.

“Spelling bees are not only great fun, they have wider benefits like helping kids develop confidence and discovering new ways to learn,” Minister Tudge said.

“I urge parents, teachers and our young people to get behind the Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee and I encourage all schools to take part.”

The Prime Minister’s Spelling Bee was due to commence in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic. The Morrison Government has provided over $345,000 of funding to support the initiative.

The national spelling bee will run in Term 1, 2021 for children in Years 3 to 8. Schools can now register. It will be held at school level in March, with finals for each state and territory taking place in April.

Schools can register and find more information on the Kids News website. Registrations will close on Friday, 5 March 2021.

Minister roles
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Ministers
The Hon Scott Morrison MP
The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Address to the COTA Australia National Policy Forum on Retirement Income

Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements

Thank you Ian and the Council on the Aging (COTA) for hosting today’s national policy forum on retirement income.

I would like to acknowledge the constructive role that COTA has played – both prior to the Review being commissioned and since its completion. I especially want to recognise that COTA approaches these issues in a calm and considered manner – not seeking to sensationalise but rather seeking a balanced discussion based on the facts.

I also want to acknowledge that the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety is due to be released imminently and it too will make an important contribution to policy development in this area.

Australia’s population is ageing.

We are living and working longer.

And the nature of retirement is changing.

It was against this backdrop that I commissioned the first holistic review of the retirement income system since the early 90s.

The Review was conducted over a 10 month period by an independent panel: Mr Michael Callaghan, Ms Carolyn Kay, and Dr Deborah Ralston.

It received more than 430 submissions and produced a report in excess of 600 pages.

I want to thank the panel for their comprehensive assessment of our retirement income system. It is a body of work that will inform policy direction in this area for years to come.

I also note that the next Intergenerational Report will be released in the middle of this year. With the last IGR having been handed down in 2015, this year’s IGR will be especially important in highlighting the wider impacts of COVID-19. No doubt it will also contribute to our continued assessment of the effectiveness and sustainability of our retirement income system.

Today, however, I want to outline my perspective on the Review:

  • first, the significance of the Review and why it matters;
  • second, the Review’s evidence base and what it found; and
  • third, the challenging policy trade-offs the Review identified as being at the core of the system and which we must get right if we are to improve Australians’ quality of life – not just during their retirement.

As many in this room will know, the Review examined the three pillars of the retirement income system: the Age Pension; compulsory superannuation; and voluntary savings, including home ownership.

It looked at each pillar individually and at the system collectively. In doing so it has provided a comprehensive assessment of the system and the outcomes it is delivering for all Australians.

This is vital because it has allowed proper consideration of each pillar within the context of the wider retirement income system. Until now, each pillar was typically assessed in its own right and without consideration of the contribution being made by the other pillars of the system.

It means questions such as adequacy and sustainability can correctly be considered in the context of the system as a whole rather than looked at in isolation.

Establishing a fact base – what did the review find?

The core task of the Review was to establish a fact base of the current retirement income system to improve understanding of its operation and the outcomes it is delivering for Australians.

What then did the Review find?

1 – The system achieves adequate retirement outcomes.

The Review found the three pillars of the system, the Age Pension, compulsory superannuation and voluntary savings deliver adequate incomes in retirement for most Australians and will be viable for generations to come.

In measuring the adequacy of retirement incomes the system delivers, the Review considered that income in retirement should “replace” around 65 per cent to 75 per cent of disposable working life income. This balances living standards over a person’s lifetime, and is in line with the standard used around the world, including by the OECD.

The Review’s evidence suggests that current retirees meet this benchmark, and that future retirees are also projected to meet it – and in many cases exceed it.

The results are consistent across men and women, different incomes, different work patterns and different savings behaviours. The current retirement income system provides an adequate retirement for a wide range of people.

This is a key finding that should reassure the vast majority of Australians that our retirement income system is working to ensure that their living standards in retirement will broadly reflect their living standards pre-retirement.

In the words of the Review: “Most recent retirees are estimated to have adequate retirement incomes”, and for future retirees, “replacement rates are projected to exceed or meet the [adequacy benchmark] for all income levels when considering employees regardless of relationship status or gender.”

2 – The Age Pension is central to our system and is working effectively.

The Review also found that the Age Pension plays a central role in our retirement income system. It is both a safety-net and a supplement. It allows Australians to more confidently use their own savings during their retirement in the knowledge that that Age Pension is there as a back-stop later in life as their savings are drawn down.

Importantly, the Review also finds the Age Pension plays an important role in improving equity by reducing income inequality among retirees, as low-income retirees receive the largest Age Pension payments.

In adequacy terms, the Review finds that 11 per cent of retirees are in financial stress, lower than the working-age average. To quote the Review, “the Age Pension combined with other support provided to retirees, is effective in ensuring most Australians achieve a minimum standard of living in retirement in line with community standards.”

Notwithstanding the strong endorsement by the Review of the vital role played by the Age Pension, research commissioned by the Review shows that most young people do not think the Age Pension will be there when they retire.

Clearly we must do more to reassure all Australians that this concern is unfounded. The Review’s findings could not be clearer. The Age Pension is well targeted and sustainable and will remain a key pillar of our system for generations to come.

This leads me to the next key finding of the review which is that the retirement income system is both sustainable and robust.

3 – The retirement income system is sustainable and robust.

In the words of the Review, “the Australian retirement income system is effective, sound and its costs are broadly sustainable.”

The cost of the Age Pension is projected to decline from 2.5 per cent of GDP in 2020 to 2.3 per cent of GDP in 2060. And while the cost of superannuation tax concessions will grow from 2 per cent of GDP to 2.6 per cent over that time, the overall cost of the retirement income system will continue to be relatively low by international standards.

This is remarkable given our ageing population. But the cost-effectiveness of our system is not an accident. It is the product of sound design and prior reforms that have enhanced its sustainability. That includes this Government’s reforms to the Age Pension assets test and the introduction of the transfer balance cap for superannuation.

This means, unlike a lot of other countries around the world, we have a retirement income system that is both sustainable today and well into the future.

Along with being sustainable, the Review also showed that our system is resilient. That is, it can continue to provide adequate outcomes for retirees through economic shocks and downturns – including COVID-19.

By way of example, the Review found that even if the market fell by 25 per cent just before they retire, the income for the median earner would only drop one per cent across their retirement, because the Age Pension is available to support them when they need it.

4 Superannuation plays an important role in the system.

Evidence commissioned by the Review shows compulsory superannuation has increased total household savings. Without compulsory superannuation, many Australians would not save enough for retirement.

The superannuation system also gives people the flexibility to save more if they can. Voluntary contributions to superannuation also provide those outside the compulsory system with an opportunity to contribute, such as the self‑employed and people with interrupted work. Around a quarter of Australians make these voluntary contributions to superannuation.

The benefits of superannuation will grow as the system matures. Median balances for people entering retirement today are around $140,000 but by 2060 are projected to be around $450,000, in real terms adjusted for changes in living standards.

With effective use of those savings, Australians will be increasingly well-placed to achieve financial security in retirement.

5 – Home ownership is critical to quality of life in retirement.

The Review found home ownership was the most important factor for avoiding hardship in retirement. For example, 6 per cent of couples that are homeowners in retirement report being in financial stress. This compares with 34 per cent for couples that rent.

Home ownership lowers living costs and provides financial security in retirement. The Review also found that the home makes up the largest share of wealth for older Australians. This wealth gives retirees peace of mind, and can help retirees cope with spending pressures that they may face.

The Government recognises the importance of home ownership to the financial security and wellbeing of Australians in retirement. To that end, we are continuing to deliver measures that will allow more Australians to buy their first home sooner, including through the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, First Home Super Saver Scheme and HomeBuilder Scheme.

We are also leveraging the retirement income system to improve supply through the downsizer contribution, which allows people aged over 65 to contribute up to $300,000 to superannuation if they sell their home.

6 – The system is complex and we all need to do more to help Australians make better decisions

While these key findings are overwhelmingly positive, the Review also found that complexity, low financial literacy and limited guidance means too many Australians don’t plan for their retirement or make the most of their savings when in retirement.

Further, many are also not aware of the extensive support they receive from Governments once in retirement, such as through health and aged care services.

The Review considers these factors to be a driver of conservative spending behaviours and misconceptions around how much savings Australians need in retirement to sustain their standard of living.

Improving retirees’ understanding of the retirement income system can assist them to make better use of their retirement savings and improve their living standards in retirement – without sacrificing their living standards during their working life.

This will continue to be an area of focus for the Government.

This is also why the Government’s Retirement Income Covenant is an important reform to the system. The Covenant will establish a requirement for superannuation trustees to develop a retirement income strategy for members. In doing so, the Covenant will require superannuation funds to consider the retirement income needs of their members and how they can assist them to get the most out of their accumulated savings over the course of their retirement.

It is a system that must carefully weigh a series of trade offs

While the Review’s key findings should rightly give us all confidence about the outcomes that the system is delivering as a whole, it also makes clear the difficult trade-offs that are at the core of the system.

These trade-offs represent the key choices that both individuals and Governments must make. And like all trade-offs, there are competing interests that need to be weighed.

The retirement income system is by definition, designed to provide retirement incomes. But the system cannot solely be about maximising income in retirement. Were it to seek to do so, it would clearly come at considerable expense to individuals during their working lives.

The Review rightly outlined that the system should help people balance their lifetime income. This means balancing the trade-offs between income in someone’s working life and in retirement.

In this respect, the Review highlighted the trade-off between the superannuation guarantee and wages.

Drawing on overwhelming international and Australian evidence including independent analysis from the ANU, the Grattan Institute and the RBA, the review conclusively stated that a higher superannuation guarantee means lower wages for employees.

Specifically, the Review stated “the weight of evidence suggests the majority of increases in the superannuation guarantee come at the expense of growth in wages.”

No-one should be surprised by this or find it controversial. It was part of the original policy design of the superannuation system.

As I have said previously, this is not rocket science, anybody who denies that there is a trade-off is effectively a “flat-earther”.

The Review found that increases to the superannuation guarantee boost retirement income, but that this comes at the expense of working-life income.

For a median earner, increasing the superannuation guarantee could increase their retirement income by $33,000, but lower their working-life income by around $32,000.

Given the compulsory nature of superannuation, this is a trade-off that the system imposes, not one which individuals can choose for themselves.

Were it not for compulsion, it would be a matter for each individual to decide how much of today’s income they are prepared to save for their retirement.

It is simply not true, as some would have us believe, that there is virtually no limit to how high the superannuation guarantee can be increased in the name of delivering ever higher retirement incomes.

Indeed, for some, there isn’t a problem that cannot be solved through a higher rate of compulsory superannuation.

These myths do nothing to help Australians plan for retirement, to feel more confident or to be more secure in their retirement.

Indeed, as the Review noted, the people most affected by high default settings are not the most-well off: “People with lower incomes are particularly vulnerable when compulsory savings rates are set too high”, noting that it “could increase pressure on lower‑income earners during working life through lower incomes”.

This important observation sits alongside a key finding of the Review with respect to superannuation, which is that “If people efficiently use their assets, then with the SG rate remaining at 9.5 per cent, most could achieve adequate retirement incomes when combined with the Age Pension. They could achieve a better balance between their working life and retirement incomes.”

This is why, as the Prime Minister and I have said, we must rightly carefully consider the implications of the legislated increase to the superannuation guarantee before 1 July this year – even more so at a time when our economy is recovering from the largest economic shock since the Great Depression.

The Review also identified the trade-off between flexibility and compulsion.

The Review noted that our system has considerable flexibility if you want to save more for your retirement. But there is very limited flexibility if a person needs to save less to maintain their quality of life today.

The COVID-19 early release of superannuation scheme was an example of how greater flexibility can benefit those that need it.

Recognising the trade-offs, we gave Australians the choice of increased flexibility, allowing them to access their savings when they needed them most.

And the scheme improved their lives. The ABS Household Impact survey showed that for around 80 per cent of people, the main use of the funds was to pay for bills, mortgages or add to savings.

Early release of superannuation in many cases allowed people to stay in their homes, keep their kids in school and provide for their families during an exceptionally challenging period in their lives.

And, as the Review found, because of our robust multi-pillar system even a person who accessed the maximum $20,000 today will still have an adequate income in retirement.

While compulsion will remain an important part of our system, providing Australians with more flexibility should not be seen as an attempt to undermine the system overall. Far from it.

The earlier Australians interact with the system the more engaged they will be and the more ownership they will feel over their own savings.

More flexibility also means better accommodating the many different circumstances Australians finds themselves over the course of their lives – whether it be their working patterns, taking time off to raise children or deciding to make catch up contributions at a time that their financial circumstances allow.

This is why we have introduced several changes over recent years to provide greater flexibility and allow Australians to make the most of their circumstances and better balance their working life income and their retirement income.

These changes have included allowing Australians with balances under $500,000 to make ‘catch-up’ contributions, enabling the self-employed and others to claim tax deductions for their personal superannuation contributions, and allowing Australians aged 65 and 66 to make voluntary superannuation contributions without meeting the Work Test.

The Government will always be very sceptical of those who, in pursuit of their own self-interest, would seek to restrict the legitimate choices Australians should have about how they choose to save for their own retirement.

Better use of superannuation savings critical to higher retirement incomes

The Review made clear that how retirees use their superannuation savings in retirement has a significant impact on their retirement income and therefore their quality of life in retirement.

Overwhelmingly, retirees currently do not spend all their superannuation before they die. This is despite the fact that retirees today have not benefitted from a mature superannuation system their whole working life.

The Review shows that if nothing changes, by 2060, one in every three dollars paid out of superannuation will be part of a bequest. This raises the question as to whether the answer to lifting the retirement incomes of Australians is more superannuation savings or better guidance about how to maximise their superannuation savings during their retirement.

This question is all the more important given the trade-offs from higher contributions I have outlined above.

Drawing from the analysis in the Review, Treasury has estimated that at the current superannuation guarantee rate, using superannuation efficiently could increase the median person’s income in retirement by over $100,000 compared to how people typically draw down on their superannuation now.

To illustrate how significant this finding is, the Review also assessed the impact on retirement incomes of the superannuation guarantee rate increasing to 12 per cent, but the same median income earner only drawing down on their superannuation at the current typical rates. In this scenario, the person would only receive $7,000 in additional retirement income over their retirement despite having foregone more of their working life income.

It is clear that giving more confidence and guidance to retirees to assist them in drawing down on their superannuation savings more effectively is critically important.

This is perhaps the key challenge that the Review has highlighted and which we must collectively solve. There are few more effective ways to improve the quality of life for Australians in retirement than to help them make better financial decisions. This is an area that the Government will look to do more and I look forward to engaging with all of you on this critical task.

Continued superannuation reform key to higher retirement incomes

The efficiency of the superannuation system is vital to the retirement outcomes it delivers Australians. Under a compulsory system supported by important tax incentives, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that members and taxpayers are getting value for money from the system.

The Government has successfully implemented major reforms to the system over recent years that will see substantial savings flow to Australians.

These reforms have included fee caps on low balance superannuation accounts, banning exit fees and requiring insurance to be offered on an opt-in basis in certain circumstances where it would otherwise result in an unwarranted erosion of member balances.

The Government has also legislated reforms to allow the ATO to proactively reunite lost and unclaimed super balances held by the ATO with an individual’s current active account. As of December 2020, the ATO has proactively consolidated $3.7 billion held in unintended multiple accounts on behalf of almost two million Australians.

As the Review highlights, adequate retirement outcomes are also a product of the returns Australians earn on their savings. Those returns are a function of the performance their superannuation fund delivers and the costs of delivering that performance.

That is why the Government is focussed on ensuring Australians’ hard earned superannuation savings are working harder for them. As many in this room will be aware, the Your Future, Your Super reforms announced in the Budget stand to boost the retirement savings of millions of Australians, with Treasury estimating a total benefit to members of $17.9 billion over 10 years.

Treasury estimates young workers entering the workforce could be up to $98,000 better off at retirement because of these reforms.

Eliminating expenditure that is not in the best financial interests of members, preventing the creation of unintended multiple accounts, driving down fees and holding funds to account for poor performance represents the only “free lunch” when it comes to increasing the retirement incomes of all Australians.

Closing remarks

To conclude, the comprehensive review of Australia’s retirement income system tells us that we have much to celebrate.

Our system produces adequate retirement incomes for the vast majority of Australians, and it does so in a way that is fiscally sustainable in the long term.

As our population ages, as we live longer and our retirement patterns change, I am confident that the pillars of the system will continue to provide effective support to Australian retirees.

But as the Review highlights, there is scope to improve the system and to continue to challenge ourselves with respect to the key trade-offs at the core of the system.

The work of the Review now provides the evidence base to have these discussions and to consider what more we need to do to improve the system and ultimately help more Australians more effectively balance their lifetime incomes.

Entries open for Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Source: Prime Minister of Australia

The 2021 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, which recognize Australia’s outstanding literary talent, are now open for entries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison strongly encouraged writers to put their unique stories forward for this year’s Awards,

“Last year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards again highlighted the diverse literary contributions we have in Australia,” the Prime Minister said.

“The Awards provide us with the opportunity to celebrate the significant contribution literature, history and poetry have in connecting us to Australian voices and our story as a nation. “

Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said the Awards pay homage to the valuable contribution Australian writing makes to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life.

“The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards identifies Australia’s pre-eminent writers each year, showcases their works, and provides national recognition for their talent,” Minister Fletcher said.

The Awards are presented in six categories – children’s literature, young adult literature, fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Australian history – with a total prize pool of $600,000.

Entries, which close on Friday 26 March are sought for books published in the 2020 calendar year.

For more information about the Awards and entry guidelines, visit: PM’s Literary Awards

Papua New Guinea Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare

Source: Australia Government Ministerial Statements

Australia extends its deep condolences to the Somare family and the people of Papua New Guinea on the passing of Grand chief Sir Michael Somare.

Sir Michael was a towering figure in the history of Papua New Guinea.

As a driving force in the development of Papua New Guinea’s national constitution, and the nation’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Michael has an unparalleled place in the history of Papua New Guinea.

As Prime Minister for 17 years, over four separate terms, Sir Michael became a long-standing and respected friend of Australia, working alongside Australian Prime Ministers Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Howard, Rudd and Gillard.

He was a vital partner who staunchly defended Papua New Guinea’s independence, but always appreciated Australia’s unstinting commitment to his country.

Sir Michael believed deeply in the Westminster system of government – with its separation of powers, independent judiciary, and strong democratic processes and institutions.

That commitment made Papua New Guinea’s path to Independence, secure and enduring.

I know Sir Michael will be deeply missed by his many friends in Australia and across the region.
Papua New Guinea is Australia’s closest neighbour and one of our dearest friends.

On this sad day, we honour a nation that is family to us.

To Lady Veronica and the entire Somare family, I extend my heartfelt condolences and the condolences of the Australian Government.