Daily Bulletin


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  • Written by Scott Morrison


Good morning everyone. I am joined today by the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, as well as Christine Morgan, the Head of the Mental Health Commission, and Professor Kidd, who is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, focusing particularly on GPs. As each day unfolds, there are more challenges to address. The National Cabinet will meet later today to consider further measures. What I want to say to Australians though today, as we have assessed the information this morning, this time last week the rate of increase on cases was up around 25 to 30 per cent a day. That rate now over the last few days has fallen to about 13 to 15 per cent. Now, they are still strong rates of increase, there’s no doubt about that. But as we take the measures we have been taking and put them in place and we have the cooperation from the Australian people, then that obviously in turn has an impact on how we are managing the spread of the virus. But also how that impacts on our health system, on the population, and people's jobs and livelihoods. 

 

Today, what I am here to do, together with those who are joining me, is to announce more support for the care of Australians. There are many things we have to address, whether it is income support or whether it is direct health support through our public hospital system, and it was only a week or so ago that the Health Minister and I stood here and announced $2.4 billion in additional support for the health sector, followed up by a further $600 million in support for the aged care sector. So there is already $3 billion of additional funding support going into these critical areas. Today we are here to announce further support going into our health sector but also into our welfare supports for those in the community who can be most vulnerable as a result of the changes that are taking place in daily life here in Australia as a result of the decisions that are being taken and the impact they have in the community. 

 

But before we come to that I also want to announce something very important for how we are getting information to Australians. Today, with the great assistance, and I want to thank them from Atlassian and Facebook, we have been able to put in place the WhatsApp feature and if you simply go into WhatsApp and type in ‘aus.gov.au/whatsapp’ you will get access to a new messaging service which enables us to talk to more and more Australians to provide direct information on a whole range of features in terms of basic health advice, updates on the measures that are being put in place by state and federal governments, and that can assist you to get to get the accurate and timely information about what is being done by governments around the country to support you as you and your family and your household and your community work through the difficult months ahead because of the coronavirus. I can also say that on the Apple app store, the coronavirus app, you can now download. I did that this morning and that is available and that is doing exactly the same thing, providing further information, more resources, a trusted place of advice and information that you and your family and your business can use to understand the decisions and the information that is available to everybody about what is occurring with the coronavirus. That is an official source of information and I would ask for the support of media in promoting those channels where people can get access to that information. So, aus.gov.au/whatsapp, and the coronavirus app, you can simply do that by going to the app store. I did up this morning, I just typed in on search ‘coronavirus’ and the Australian government app came right up and I downloaded it and the information is there for people to get access to it. 

 

But today we are also announcing support of $1.1 billion, which has been foreshadowed today. That is being done in four tranches. There is the Medicare subsidised telehealth services, so people can continue to get access to quality healthcare when they are at home. We are asking Australians to stay home, particularly older Australians, even more so. And we want to ensure that they can continue to get access to healthcare and health advice and support from GPs, which is why this measure is being put in place. That is some $669 million. Getting health services into your home. Secondly, we are also announcing $74 million for mental health support. The Health Minister will take you through the specifics of that when he speaks. We are putting $150 million into support for domestic violence initiatives. I have flagged with you in recent days my concerns and the National Cabinet's concerns about these issues. Google has shown a 75 per cent increase in searches when it comes to issues around domestic violence in recent days. We need to put more resources into supporting people who will be vulnerable and may be vulnerable, and we are putting that support in. And that will ensure that those services, whether it is MensLine or whether it is the 1800 RESPECT line, or any of these other types of support and others, they will get the funding they need to provide services that are so essential. We are also putting $200 million into emergency relief support. That will be provided to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency food relief as demand surges as a result of the coronavirus. These services are demand driven, but we anticipate the funding boost, which is more than four times annual funding, will help hundreds of thousands of Australians in most urgent need. The funding will be shared among existing providers, including FoodBank, SecondBite, OzHarvest, the Salvation Army, St Vincent De Paul, Anglicare and many other local community organisations. To find your closest emergency relief provider you can go to the DSS government website and that information will be available to you, but many who already access the services will know where they are and what they do. 

 

We will also be moving to provide further income support. The Treasurer and I have been working together with Treasury and other officials night and day over recent days to ensure we can provide further boosted income support across the Australian economy. We are being very careful to ensure that income support can be delivered in a way that gets it to people as quickly as possible using the existing systems that we have. When we do these things it is not a matter of just cutting and pasting ideas from other places. We need to have solutions that will work in Australia. And so our approach has been to apply the discipline to the design of measures to deal with unprecedented levels of demand. We have even seen, where we have moved as part of our second stimulus, and it was not a stimulus, it was a safety net package, our second safety net package, that even with the significant ramping up of capacity through Centrelink and other government services, that was fairly quickly overwhelmed. And so we are learning from that and ensuring the measures we seek to put in place next will be able to be distributed even more effectively. So it isn't a matter of whether more income support for workers and employees is needed, it is a factor of the design of the delivery of that support. You cannot just cut and paste somebody else's system, because we have seen in many other jurisdictions that are putting these in place, they are having to rapidly redesign and change them. You have got to have more detail from the outset to ensure you have the most effective implementation. So I would say to employers, who I know are going through very difficult times, these changes will be announced soon and I would ask that before you make any further decisions that you take the opportunity to see the further measures that the government will be announcing, and we will be seeking to enlist you in that process. And we will be ensuring also that those who have already gone into this very devastating situation where they have had to stand down workers, that any measures we are announcing will be taking them on as well and we will be working with them to that end. 

 

Finally, I would say that overnight, when the midnight ban came in - I should say the midnight quarantine arrangements came in place for returning travellers, those arrangements have worked relatively smoothly, that is the advice from the Chief of Border Force. I spoke to him this morning. The number of passengers was actually down on what might have been expected, and I want to thank all of those state and territory authorities. I want to particularly thank those of New South Wales, which had to shoulder half the burden this morning. On the numbers through to this morning, New South Wales has been dealing with half the number of cases of people who have been coming in. They have got great support from the ADF, great support from the Australian Federal Police. The New South Wales agencies have done a tremendous job, and there have also been very difficult challenges in Western Australia, dealing with those cruise ships. And again, I want to thank the Western Australian government, the Western Australian health system, the Border Force, the ADF, everybody else, the private hospitals that have come to the aid to support us. Everyone is working together and everybody is working incredibly hard to deal with the unprecedented level of demand and changes that are necessary. Right now, it is about getting more support to people in the community that needed most, and that is their healthcare, that is their mental health, that is the protection for vulnerable Australians and that emergency relief, and that is what this $1.1 billion package I have announced today will be addressing. Greg?

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Prime Minister. Today is about taking care of our vulnerable Australians, all Australians and, in particular, our GPs and our nurses. It is about support for health and mental health, at a time of the most profound and understandable stress. Whether it is because of concerns relating to income, whether it is concerns about a job or whether it is the direct fear or contact people may have in relation to the coronavirus or other issues and is the ability to get the support, anxiety, the possibility of depression, loneliness, isolation, the need for access to services, all of these are real. So these are the things we are seeking to support with changes that would otherwise have taken 10 years being done in 10 days and I want to thank both Michael and Christine for their support on that. 

 

Just before addressing the specific mental health and telehealth measures, I do want to provide a brief update on some of the national progress. The most important development is the one that the Prime Minister has outlined in terms of the positive, early signs of flattening of the curve. This is the work that Australians together, both governments, but above all else, the people have been taking. As the Prime Minister said, from daily rates of increase a week ago in the 25 and 30 per cent rate, to now on our latest advice from the National Incident Centre this morning to being in the low teens. That is an early positive sign. We have so much more work to do but by people isolating, by people doing social distance and they are really doing this, Australians are rising magnificently to this challenge and we want to say thank you. And to those small few who are not, you have to take these measures because they are about saving lives. They are not about convenience and inconvenience, they are about saving lives. Part of this has been the testing regime. As of this morning, our latest advice is there are 209,000 tests that have been completed in Australia. More than 98 per cent negative rate and what that really means is that with the 3,898 cases reported to us, we have one of the broadest and most reflective testing regimes and this is borne up by the secondary evidence that, at this point in time, our loss of life, as terrible as it is, is well below 1 per cent, it’s below 0.5 per cent of those confirmed. That will change, but we know that, but it continues to be a recognition that the evidence we have is at the global forefront. At the same time, 750,000 telehealth services have already been delivered in only a very brief period of time. 

 

So that brings me to the measures the Prime Minister has outlined. Firstly, let me deal with mental health. In particular, it’s $74 million directly but we believe about $300 million when you take into account the telehealth services. There are two parts to this. There’s the preventive work, and I want to thank Christine for her work, Michael Gardner from my team, and all of the mental health professionals who have helped pull this together. Counselling and support services, $10 million for Beyond Blue, $14.5 million for Lifeline and kids health and other groups. Our vulnerable Australians will receive a very, very significant package of $45 million and that includes $10 million to support older Australians, $3 million specifically for our health workers because the pressures they are under are real. These are our heroes at this point in time, these are the people who are putting themselves out there to protect Australians. $7 million for young Australians through headspace and then an additional $28 million to support and provide psychosocial support going forward. Those that have trouble accessing services, who are on the margins sometimes, we will be supporting them. All of that going together, the counselling, the vulnerable and information campaign which begins this evening to assist with that. 

 

But that brings me to telehealth. Telehealth is vital for mental health and for physical health. What we are doing now is a radical transformation in the way we deliver our health services. As of tomorrow, we will have universal telehealth available in Australia. It is not the money, it is a $669 million program, as the Prime Minister said. It does two things. One, for everybody who is self isolating or is under formal isolation or formal quarantine, that means you can ring your doctor, whether it is your GP, your specialist, your mental health psychiatrist or psychologist, your allied health practitioner or your nurse practitioner, all of these are available. It is a decade's worth of work in a matter of days and I want to thank Professor Michael Kidd and his team for pulling this together. He has had the support of the AMA, the College of GPs, the Council of Medical Presidents from all of the colleges, rural doctors, Indigenous groups, they’ve all pitched in magnificently. What these services will mean is that every Australian anywhere can get the help they need. We are also doubling the bulk billing incentive and making that available both for face-to-face and telehealth consultations and we are providing a doubling of the practice incentive payments for those general practices that continue face-to-face consultations. That is very important because so many health services still need to be face-to-face, involve examination, involve physical consultation and I want to thank our general practitioners for participating in this. So these services, very simply, are about saving lives and protecting lives, about supporting our doctors, supporting our patients and protecting Australians with their mental health and their health and their well-being. I might invite Christine and then Michael.

 

CHRISTINE MORGAN, HEAD OF THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMISSION: Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Prime Minister, and I would like to reflect the thanks expressed to every Australian who is really embracing our concept of physical distancing but with social connection. As we have said so often, mental health is as integral to who we are as our physical health and what we are seeing today is the Australian system, as our Prime Minister has referred to it, being opened up, being flexed up to ensure that the mental health and well-being of every Australian, whether we come into this mentally well, whether we come to it mentally ill, whether we come to it mentally challenged, and at that point I would like to stop and just remember so many Australians who have recently been through the scourges of our drought and bushfires who are already suffering and to remember that their mental health and well-being is important. Today's package reflects the importance of trying to prevent mental unwellness, but also to ensure we provide treatment for any who need it. It covers our vulnerable Australians, frontline workers as our Minister has said, and all Australians. And I commend the work that so many have done for it. 

 

But I would also like to stop and reflect on the fact that as we must practice physical distance and as we all embrace the concept of loneliness that can go with that, for too many Australians today that also encompasses a sense of fear. As our Prime Minister has said, home is not always safe. If only it could be. That is certainly something we would all embrace but the reality is that for too many, it is not safe and for those who are at fear or facing the reality of any form of violence in their environment, it is incredibly important that being physically distant, we nevertheless remain very connected and we provide all opportunities for anyone in those circumstances to find a way to reach help. It is impossible to be going through that degree of fear, that degree of what is happening to me, without being mentally affected. Now, our mental health services are yet another avenue of support. Today's package, as the Prime Minister has said, provides support for those known services to any Australian who needs them. 1800 respect, MensLine Australia, the counselling support services, they are there for you. But also know this, that any mental health service that Australia provides is there for you also. Do not hesitate, use any avenue you can. We are there to help, we are there to support, whether you are living with the fear of it as a potential victim, whether you are living with that as the horror of a potential perpetrator, we are there for all Australians. Our mental health and mental well-being is a foundational piece for us to be able to get through this pandemic. There are so many positive signs. We have heard it in the bringing down of those increases. There is hope, there is a future, we need to do it together and we need to be there for all vulnerable Australians. So I encourage all of us to remember and look after our mental health and well-being, to access our mental health services and, for those who may be afraid, we are there for you. Thank you.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Christine. Professor Kidd?

 

PROFESSOR PETER KIDD, PRINCIPAL MEDICAL ADVISER: Thank you and good morning. I am a general practitioner and, in my working lifetime over the last 35 years, I have never seen such a dramatic change to the way that we deliver care to our patients as we have over the last two weeks with the movement towards whole of population telehealth. From tomorrow morning, if you are a patient, you will be able to reach out to your general practitioner, your specialist, the other healthcare providers you may see who are able to access the NBS and Medicare and seek advice using the telephone or using video consultations. If you are a GP or another healthcare provider, you will be able to reach out to your patients and make sure that they are Ok, make sure that they are adhering to their plans for the management of chronic diseases or their acute concerns where this is appropriate. It is very important, as the Minister has said, that we continue to have face-to-face healthcare services available when they are needed. We know that in a pandemic, one of the greatest risks to the population is if we see a collapse of healthcare services, with people with acute conditions and chronic conditions, with mental health conditions, not getting access to the services they need. The measures which are being put in place will ensure that the people of Australia continue to have access to high-quality general practice and other healthcare services available from their chosen providers. Services, as the Minister has said, for people who are on concession cards and for children under the age of 16 and for people who meet the vulnerable categories, will continue to be bulked billed using telehealth. This ensures access to people at this time of great challenge in our nation 's history. At the same time, the support being provided by the government to general practices ensures that our general practices will remain open and will be there to provide services to you. May I just finish by saying my thanks to the peak medical and health organisations across Australia who have worked at an extraordinary level to make this happen and may I say thank you to all my peers and colleagues, the healthcare workers across this country, who are doing extraordinary things protecting the health of our population. Thank you.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Professor Kidd, and I also offer the government’s thanks to all of those who are working, particularly in our healthcare sector at the moment, whether it is nurses, whether it’s doctors, whether it’s paramedics, whether it’s cleaners working in hospitals as well, those other services that support the functioning of all of those places. As they have been telling you, they can’t stay at home but they need you to so they can keep going and doing what they need to do and I think that that messaging that has been coming out of particularly the health workers and nurses is the most effective plea, I think, anyone can make. So happy to take some questions. John and then Michelle.

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Prime Minister. On the significantly enhanced support for businesses to help pay employees that both you and the Finance Minister have confirmed this morning through the existing tax and transfer system. You are asking employers to hold off making lay off decisions until they see that package in the coming days. Would you envisage it to still only apply to SMEs or to have a broader application to potentially bigger, publicly listed companies such as Qantas or Premier Investments, for example, or just SMEs?

 

PRIME MINISTER: We are looking at a broader application, John. I mean, the waves of economic support that we put in place have had the feature of being scalable and the feature of actually working through existing channels wherever possible. And those packages are focused on the most immediate needs. The last package that we announced with the Treasurer was about broadening and strengthening the safety net for those who are going to be immediately impacted by the shock of losing their jobs. The next stage, which will be even bigger than anything you have so far seen, will go broader than that and ensure that we are working together with companies to keep people connected to companies. This is part of the hibernation strategy of ensuring that we keep people connected with businesses and with their jobs so that on the other side of this, Australia can bounce back stronger. This is going to be incredibly tough economically as well as from a health point of view. But where Australia can ensure we can bounce back better on the other side and more strongly is by following these strategies which enable businesses to re-emerge very, very quickly, with their employers, with their capital, with their equipment, with their shops, with all of the things which they can switch on again and get moving again. That is in the long-term interests of Australia. Certainly, this health crisis and economic crisis is a battle on two fronts and it is going to be waged in an unimaginable and unprecedented way over the next at least six months and potentially beyond that. But the battle we need to win is for the long-term as well and that is that the businesses are able to resurge and we can get Australia back to life as we know it again - as we have known it, I should say - as soon as possible once the virus passes. Michelle?

 

JOURNALIST: Minister Hunt, for some time we were hearing that the official medical advice from your top committee was unanimous. Now, the other day, Dr Kelly acknowledged the Victorian principal health officer had a different view. Could you explain the differences please?

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Sure. Look, very briefly, and I am not inside the medical expert panel, we very specifically want them to meet. I think like every group, they discuss, they take the best advice from the communicable disease network experts, virologists, epidemiologists, contagious disease, communicable disease experts. They bring their views and they have been magnificent, they have been magnificent and everybody will come with different ideas and different views. But my understanding is that ultimately, their decisions have been consensus decisions, as in every group when you make decisions, there are multiple inputs some people have different views but I have to say, one of the things that the Prime Minister did when COAG met before it became the National Cabinet a few weeks ago, was achieve two fundamental things. One, the primacy of a single, national unified voice, the medical expert panel and all the states and territories agreed that at the Prime Minister 's request and they have operated as a single national unified voice. Secondly, out of that came the concept of a single national unified government, the national unity cabinet and those two elements are essential. So different views will come in but one voice comes out and that is the national medical voice and I want to say our chief health and medical officers, they have been working 18 hours a day and to thank them for their extraordinary guidance.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. And then over to Phil?

 

JOURNALIST: Can we get clarification on the telehealth services with mental health, does that mean a GP can to provide a mental health plan over the phone or does it extend to a psychologist extending help over the phone and is it entirely covered?

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Yes, what we have here is general practice, specialist consultation services, obviously where physical examinations are required such as surgical or other physical procedures, they still have to occur face-to-face but everything which can be done by telehealth will be done by telehealth, and that includes general practice mental health consultations, psychological services, psychiatric services. That is an important question and thank you for asking that.

 

PRIME MINISTER: Phil?

 

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify on this wage, you’re working on at the moment, one you confirmed this morning, it would only apply to workers who have been stood down and not retrenched as such and just for people out there watching who may not have heard, it will apply retrospectively so if someone was stood down by their employer two weeks ago, with the prospect of the business starting up again, they will receive this new wage as well?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well Phil, I can give some responses to that, but let me be clear, the package of measures has not yet been finalised and so I am not in the habit of going into details of things that have not been finalised. I don't think that is fair on Australians, I think it's important that we continue to work through that detail. Treasury is meeting as we speak, they met all yesterday and all the day before that and the day before that. These are not simple things to do when you're talking about rolling out programs of income of support to millions of people. Anyone can have an idea about that but converting that into an actual deliverable program that can reach millions of people is a very complicated exercise and that is the work we are engaged in doing. But the principles, I can say, is that the package would support those who have more recently been the victims of these closures that have taken place and we will be seeking to support people involved in those closures but we will advise further details of the starting point about that, but yes, I can confirm that is understood to pick that up because you want them to stay connected to their businesses as well. What I can also say is what has enhanced this need is from the measures that were announced last Sunday, the package of the $66 billion we had in place prior to that, that was put in place before the more enhanced measures that were agreed by the National Cabinet. They are obviously taking an even greater toll. I said at that time, we would be back. There would be more. There will be more, and the Treasurer and I will be looking to making an announcement on that as soon as we can, it is not that far away but we want to be sure that when we do it, we have covered the majority of the ground that needs to be covered to enable the program to be successfully implemented in partnership with those businesses, which will extend beyond what has been the level of coverage we have had to date. Let's just recap what we have already done. We have already provided over $30 billion worth of support to these small and medium-sized businesses to support them in the, over the next six months. This will be in addition to that. 

 

Yep, over to one here, then we’ll do this side and then I’m happy to move over to that side.

 

JOURNALIST: Thanks PM, we’re seeing still a lot of complacency out in the community about how to respond to the virus but at the same time, the head of the NHS in the UK Steven Power said this morning that in the UK they have been doing very well to have fewer than 20,000 deaths. Are we looking at the same scenario in Australia? Can you release the modelling on that because is releasing the modelling and releasing these kinds of forecasts a way to make sure people are not complacent?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me just say a few things about numbers. It is very hard to make comparisons between countries for a range of reasons, the way they are collecting data is different but one of the things in Australia which sets Australia's numbers out in terms of their accuracy is the very high level of testing. I mean, the figures I have in my morning brief today is that we have a testing rate per 100,000 population of 815.9. Now that compares to 753.7 in South Korea, 177.9 in the United Kingdom, 486.1 in Canada and 484.6 in Austria. Just, these are some indicative examples. Now our percentage COVID-19 positive testing rate is 1.8%, in South Korea it is 2.4%. In Canada, it is 2.6%. What you can see is where you have very high levels of testing, then your positive rates are actually very, very low. Where you have testing regimes which are not where Australia’s are, then you have higher positive testing coming out, it’s 14.1% in the UK and so the overall case numbers that you are seeing in many of these other countries, they are not really directly comparable to Australia. I mean you would have to use them for the purposes of getting some idea but I think it is very dangerous to make ironclad comparisons between countries. The fatality rate is the one which is the most clear and on that score, then obviously while the fatalities in Australia have been heartbreaking and devastating, particularly for families of those, they have been confined particularly to those who are of a more advanced age and with quite significant comorbidities. We have not yet seen in Australia the sort of fatality statistics that have occurred in other countries more broadly throughout the population. But to go to your second point, That’s why this is so important, Australia right now, and this is why was I thankful on Friday that we had seen what was an 80% fall in people 's movements around our major capital cities as a result of the measures we put in place over the last fortnight. That is great. But you are right, there are still people, whether it is on St Kilda beach or people still congregating in shopping centres, congregating outside, that does not help. We have said very clearly as a National Cabinet that people should not be doing that. You should be going to work, where you have to, and if you cannot work from home, you should be ensuring that when you go outside to shop, you are going to get what you need and that there is a reasonable understanding that people should continue to exercise and where they can do that, in their own home, fine. If they are doing it on their own or with appropriate social distancing outside for a limited period, fine. But the idea of people gathering still in groups, this is not helping. People really should not be doing it. And that’s what we’ve been saying now for some time. At least over the course of this last week. And you will see the states and territories increasingly enforcing this but it would be much better if they did not have to do and we're seeing it amongst younger people, particularly in their 20s and in their 30s, early 30’s, and there seems to be a view that because they are healthier that they are not transmitters of the virus. They are transmitters of the virus. And while they themselves may only have a mild case but that is no guarantee, what they are doing by having that view, is that they are putting other people’s lives at risk. So the measures we have in place I think are having the impact that we hope they would have but there are no guarantees. We are going to rates of daily increase of 20% down to the low teens at the moment and we’re watching those figures very, very closely and I would stress on our numbers it is still overwhelmingly the case that the cases are imported cases. The figures I have at my briefing this morning, that’s at 6.30 this morning, that the Commonwealth has, there were 3,809 cases. That number is moving through the course of the day as you know, but 2,562 of those cases were imported from overseas. SO that remains the predominant driver of case numbers in Australia and as our testing numbers increase, obviously that is going to capture more cases as well.

 

So here, and then we’ll move around, yep?

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you looking at relaxing restrictions around Centrelink benefits for people who lose their jobs, who’s partners earn over $48,000 a year? 

 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you need Parliament to bring those measures in or when to expect that people will start to benefit from that?

 

PRIME MINISTER: No, we don't need Parliament and we have ensured we have flexibility working with the Opposition early this week and this will be part of a much more comprehensive set of measures which in many cases will overwhelm, by that I mean in a positive way, that requirement itself. There is an even more effective way beyond the changes in social services that we can address that and we will be announcing that in the not-too-distant future.

 

JOURNALIST: Are you considering at all the calls of the AMA to use private hospitals for other urgent medical care to free up the public hospital capacity, which is already stressed, to deal with COVID-19 admissions?

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: We are working with the private hospitals and over the weekend the states have all been working directly with private hospitals. Our view is that they are a critical part of the system and part of our capacity. Just before coming here, I had a call from one of the major private health providers, in terms of hospitals, and they are close to an agreement with at least two of the states. They will be reporting back, the states will be reporting back to the National Cabinet today, as was agreed on Friday so I want to thank them, they have made extraordinary progress with what is an indispensable and critical part of our system.

 

JOURNALIST: Do you expect New South Wales and Victoria to break away from the National Cabinet process and move to shut down retail and schools today or in the coming days?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Again, I want to be clear about how the National Cabinet works. The National Cabinet has been very clear that some states may have to take further measures sooner than other states. That is not a break away from the National Cabinet. That is actually the National Cabinet working. I would caution people against running a commentary that there being any potentially different actions by states because of the more extreme conditions they are facing as being any malfunctioning of the National Cabinet. Quite the reverse. All the states and territories are working together to arrive at actions which can be as far as possible, nationally consistent but where states and territories need to take additional actions because of their case numbers, then that is entirely understandable. There is no breakdown in that process. That is an enshrining and building up of the process. That is a demonstration of the way the states can work together and so as much as some states may find themselves in a position to do a few more things, it should not be the view that the states who are not doing those things are not doing enough. That would be the wrong analysis. And the states are looking at making these decisions together. That is what they have done from day one of the National Cabinet. So we will meet again this afternoon and we will, I will be able to further update on where we up to on the economic package and it is important that any further restrictions that may be considered are also considered in the context of ensuring that essential supports are in place for people who might be affected by that and that is why our Treasury is working so valiantly along with the Treasurer and the Finance Minister to make sure we can finalise these measures as soon as we practically can. So it has always been the understanding that there can be further responses from individual states based on their medical advice, which is also collectively received, and that is understood by the other members of the National Cabinet.

 

JOURNALIST: Over the weekend the UK government was granted permission to access foreign data anonymously, so they can track if the community is following the lockdown laws. Is that something Australia would consider, and what are the other potential implications of that mass of contact and movement data that you would potentially have access to which could help us limit the spread?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well the Australian government isn't doing that. What I want to be clear about is the policies and measures that we will put in place for Australia will be right for Australia. They will understand how Australia works and how Australia thinks and what our rules are and what our society understands and accepts. Our values. That is what we will do in Australia. We're not going to go and cut paste measures from other places, which have completely different societies. I mean, in China they were welding people's doors shut. That might be okay with them, but what I'm saying... And the UK is a different society to Australia, I would also stress. We have different health systems. We have a federation in Australia. We have different ways of doing things in Australia. Now, what I'm saying is if Australians can continue to work together and to comply with the very clear instructions that are being provided for people to self isolate and to do the right thing, and that is how we get through this and we get through it as Australians, remaining true to the principles and values that we hold most dear. So the government will seek to be continuing to do that, and we also want to ensure that we have enforcement of the arrangements that are put in place, and those sorts of issues are not matters that are directly before the National Cabinet, but as we go forward, we just want to ensure that people are doing the right thing and people are cooperating with the very reasonable, but the very urgent instructions, that we are providing to them.

 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, as you were saying on cruise ships, in WA we of course had to of course dock that cruise ship on Friday because in Mark McGowan's words, they had reached crisis point regarding the number of people on that ship- 

 

PRIME MINISTER: The Arcadia?

 

JOURNALIST: That’s right yeah. What is the Commonwealth government going to do to support WA as it’s got over 40 or 50 cases of foreigners who need now to be treated for the virus, and for you, Mr Hunt, as well, some women's health groups have raised concerns about what some of the suspensions to elective surgeries are going to mean for different women's health procedures. Will new IVF be suspended? Will that not happen for the foreseeable future? And can you confirm that abortion care will not be jeopardised during this time?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well I will throw to the Health Minister, but firstly, on the Arcadia, this is important. Because this was a German cruise ship, these are German passengers who will be flying home courtesy of the German government to get them out of Australia and to get them home. Right now we have many Australians who are overseas as well, and I am concerned about their welfare, and so when I am dealing, and with other foreign governments, about the welfare of Australians who may become ill and may need hospital care and may not be able to be returned to Australia, then it is important that Australia does the right thing about those who have fallen into our care to ensure that I can say with great moral authority that Australians are doing the right thing, and we would ask you to do the right thing. And the Japanese government certainly did that in the case of the Diamond Princess at Yokohama. So there are some, if you like, moral rules here, about if there are people who need our healthcare in Australia, through no fault of their own, then of course we would extend that to them, and yesterday I had numerous discussions, and the day before, with the Western Australian Premier and the Health Minister had numerous discussions with his counterpart to put in place a very sensible facility program for those who are going off the ship and home, for those who will require hospitalisation treatment, and those who would have to be isolated because they wouldn't be able to board that plane. And so the Western Australian government has received great support to do that, and it was a very cooperative arrangement and I want to thank Premier McGowan, and his ministers and WA health for their assistance. But Greg can supplement that.

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thank you to the Prime Minister, on the German cruise ship we have all been working very closely with WA and I think what we have done, actually, is implement the Diamond Princess rules of where Japan took care of those Australians who were sick, and we brought them home, Germany is bringing home their citizens, and we are taking care of those other citizens that are ill. And I think that is the right thing to do. More broadly, on individual services, let's be clear that there is, and in the letter that I gave to private health providers and hospitals on Friday night, we have said that there is grounds for compassionate discretion and that means that, you know, items that continue to be urgent, continue to be what are called Category One, and then compassionate cases of Category Two can continue. And that is a relationship between the doctor and the patient. So one of the things we have been very keen to do is not to try to interfere in that relationship between the doctor and the patient, so we have allowed discretion.

 

JOURNALIST: So then doctors could say no to certain procedures like different planned parenting procedures or even abortion care? That is their discretion, is that what you're saying?

 

THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: It has always been the case that the relationship between a doctor and a patient is paramount, and one of the things that Michael and Jo Tester and others from my office and have been very keen to do, and all of the heads of the medical profession, is to preserve and protect that fundamental relationship. So it is not the government that is making those decisions.

 

PRIME MINISTER: So, one more.

 

JOURNALIST: Just one more question. There was a particularly bad example in Sydney over the weekend where a group of doctors who flew in from Chile, who were supposed to go and isolate in hotels, then got out of those hotels and have moved across the country on domestic flights. Have we tracked those doctors down? Where have they gone, and what is your message about that?

 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, they did the wrong thing. That is my primary message. And law enforcement authorities will be following up those matters across jurisdictions. Now later today the National Cabinet will be meeting, as we flagged. If there is a need for me to provide further information following that National Cabinet tonight we will do that in the Blue Room later this evening, we are meeting this afternoon, not in the evening, so you can expect any press conference to be held a little earlier in the evening than we did last Sunday. And we will consider those further matters before us and if that requires me to come back to you again today then I will be doing so. 

 

Thank you very much.

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