COVID-19 pandemic ‘still on and it’s not going away’, PM says

By Melissa Coade

Friday May 7, 2021

Scott Morrison has told an audience at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce that Australia needs to ‘stick to the plan’ in responding to COVID-19 for national economic recovery. 

Investing in infrastructure, skills, lower taxes, reliable emissions energy, and creating more jobs were some of the key points in a speech Morrison delivered in Melbourne on Thursday. These levers would be part of the ‘next stage of Australia’s economic recovery’, he said, to combat the ‘brutal reality of a raging global pandemic’.

“This thing is still on and it’s not going away,” Morrison said.

“We must stay ahead of this virus and pandemic as much as we possibly can.”

With less than a week to go before the government delivers the 2021 budget, Morrison told the chamber that strengthening the Australian economy was a core response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and that he would prioritise social services issues like schools, hospitals, aged care, disability support services and mental health support to do so.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is also a top priority for the Morrison government, which the PM flagged would get an extra $13.2 billion in funding in the federal budget.

Not just to fund them now, but to sustainably do it into the future,” Morrison said.

“If you care passionately about those services that I’ve just spoken of and how important they are to individual Australians and families and communities across this country, then […] we must have an equal passion for the strength of our economy, because that’s what enables it.”

COVID-19 has delivered the type of economic threat to Australia, the likes of which have not been seen since the Great Depression or WWII, Morrison added. He reassured the audience that because of the plans laid out in the 2020 federal budget, Australia was in a unique position to bounce back.

“[…]That equates to $267 billion in health and economic budget support provided by the commonwealth as at the last budget and that has carried us through this crisis in Australia, with complementary actions indeed by states and territories as part of a comprehensive national effort,” Morrison said.

The PM said that the government was committed to powering the economy with more jobs, noting ABS figures that showed employment took a hit from 13 million in March last year, and with at least 900,000 out of work at the height of COVID-19 restrictions. 

With unemployment in Australia falling to 5.6% in March 2021, Morrison said he was relieved that national employment fared better than what had been projected. The government’s JobKeeper scheme also wound up that same month

“This is no reason for complacency and it’s not even reason for congratulation,” Morrison said.

“It’s a reason for being encouraged and being confident.”

While Morrison credited government support and initiatives for employment buoyancy, he added that the ‘plan’ for economic recovery post COVID-19 would depend on individual citizens.

“All this means that our plan is working, friends,” Morrison told the chamber. 

“Our plan is based on believing, though, in each and every Australian and backing them in to get the country through. This plan is not something that sees government as the answer.”

He went on to say that Australia’s strong performance in the last 12 to 14 months was because he ‘believed in every employer, every employee, every parent, to be able to get their family and their businesses and their employees through’.

“That’s what our policies and plans were designed to achieve. We need to stick to that plan,” he said. 

Morrison took a moment to reflect on the growing devastation caused by COVID-19 around the world, noting that there were more positive cases reported last week than in the first four months of 2020. He also acknowledged that India’s unfolding situation was an ‘awful human tragedy’.

Morrison reminded the audience that being in a position such as Australia, where 100,000 people can be safely accommodated in the G, did not mean the threat COVID-19 poses has disappeared.

“As long as the virus is a threat, it remains a threat to the world economy and indeed ours,” he added. 

Morrison also used the Victorian event to reiterate that his government would not attend the United Nations’ Durban Declaration meetings, which he described as ‘associating Australia with one-sided and contentious language that singles out Israel’. 

“This is entirely consistent with my government’s very strong voting position on UN General Assembly resolutions in the Human Rights Council and elsewhere,” Morrison said. 

“I do not accept that anti-Semitism, cloaked in the language of human rights, serves any justified purpose nor the cause of peace. Just in case anyone was in any doubt.”

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