The PM has begun by welcoming the meeting of national cabinet for the first time since the election, and announced the government will extend its Covid funding arrangement until 30 December.
It was conducted in a very good spirit, a spirit of engagement, one that recognised our common interests and our common purpose to serve people and our respective state and territories – from my perspective, to serve people around the nation. There was a focus, of course, on the response to the health pandemic, which we know is ongoing.
And in recognition of the pressure that health and hospitals continue to be under, the commonwealth has agreed to extend the Covid funding arrangements until the 30th of December this year. There are some arrangements in place as well about some of the measures not being continued beyond September because it was agreed that they were not necessary. Importantly, we’ve agreed as well that … Glen Davis, the head of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, will conduct a process review of health funding and health arrangements, looking at health reform.
What that is about isn’t necessarily additional dollars. What it’s about is a recognition that our hospital system at the moment has people who should be looked after by their local GP … That the lack of nurses and health professionals in the aged care system means that many people who should be either being looked after at home or looked after as aged care residents end up in the hospital system as well as putting further pressure on the system.
ACTU welcomes inclusion of paid family and domestic violence leave in NES
The ACTU has said it welcomes a commitment from the minister for employment and workplace relations, Tony Burke, to enshrine paid family and domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards as his “first legislative priority”.
The peak union body said new legislation would ensure the vast majority of workers had access to the entitlement, and said it would be “a significant step towards supporting people escaping abusive relationships and saving lives”.
“Including paid family and domestic violence leave in the NES is a historic reform and will help support people – nearly always women and children – escape abusive relationships. It will literally save lives,” the ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, said.
“Unions have campaigned tirelessly for paid domestic and family violence leave for over a decade which will give some economic security to people leaving volatile and dangerous domestic situations and build supportive workplaces.”
Here are the latest coronavirus numbers from around Australia today, as the country records at least 51 deaths from Covid-19:
- Deaths: 6
- Cases: 962
- In hospital: 87 (with 2 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 8
- Cases: 8,355
- In hospital: 1,372 (with 42 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 0
- Cases: 275
- In hospital: 18 (with 1 person in ICU)
- Deaths: 11
- Cases: 4,182
- In hospital: 402 (with 7 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 5
- Cases: 2,807
- In hospital: 210 (with 5 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 2
- Cases: 800
- In hospital: 30 (with 1 person in ICU)
- Deaths: 18
- Cases: 7,608
- In hospital: 438 (with 24 people in ICU)
- Deaths: 1
- Cases: 5,311
- In hospital: 260 (with 11 people in ICU)
The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a statement saying electricity reserves have improved across the National Energy Market
- Aemo can confirm sufficient electricity supply can be made available to meet forecast demand over the weekend across all regions in the National Electricity Market.
- Since announcing the suspension of the electricity spot market, we have seen improvements in generation availability, as reflected in our forecasts.
- Challenges remain in the energy sector and Aemo will continue to monitor supply levels and risks across all regions.
Local government can attend national cabinet once a year, Albanese confirms
Despite criticism of Scott Morrison for excluding local government from national cabinet and promising as an election commitment to restore them, Anthony Albanese has revealed they will only be invited to the body once a year.
In March, then local government spokesman Jason Clare said that “local government will have a seat at the national cabinet table in an Albanese-Labor Government”.
But at his press conference on Friday, Albanese said:
The national cabinet agreed we will invite a representative of local government to a future meeting of the national cabinet and the treasury body once a year so all levels of government can be involved.
The communique issued after the meeting said:
National cabinet will invite a representative of local government to future meetings of national cabinet and [the council of federal financial relations] once a year to ensure all levels of government are represented. The national cabinet has agreed to meet a minimum of four times a year or as necessary and will next meet prior to the federal budget in October 2022.
That’s a little ambiguous – is it all future meetings, meaning four times a year? Or only once a year? The prime minister’s office has confirmed it is the latter.
Under Morrison, the national cabinet agreed that “once a year, national cabinet, CFFR and the Australian Local Government Association will meet in person as the national federation reform council with a focus on priority national federation issues”.
So councils have gone from one meeting a year with national cabinet and the CFFR at the same time to, at best, two meetings a year meeting them separately.
Hardly revolutionary stuff and not much of a seat at the top table.
Sydney housing affordability ‘never been worse’, economists say
House prices in Sydney remain more than 20% above pre-Covid levels despite rising interest rates, as economists warn housing affordability has “never been worse”.
After hitting record highs in January, Sydney house prices have dropped -1.5%, but remain 22.7% above pre-2020 levels, according to CoreLogic data.
Melbourne, which experienced a softer growth phase, has recorded a smaller decline of -0.8%, with housing values now 9.8% higher compared with the pre-Covid level.
Experts say double-jab worker mandates no longer justified
AAP’s Tim Dornin:
The retention of double-dose Covid-19 vaccination mandates for workers in most settings is no longer justified, leading Australian epidemiologists say.
The head of the University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health, Prof Nancy Baxter, is unsure why Victoria’s two-jab policy remains for industries not involving the vulnerable, saying the effect of vaccines on transmission wanes over time.
“[We’ve eliminated] density restrictions, mandatory mask wearing and recommendations for working at home … those [measures] that we know will be effective against transmission,” she told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the state’s pandemic orders.
“It’s unclear why we’re maintaining mandatory vaccines just for that.”
Prof Catherine Bennett, from Deakin University, said the situation had fundamentally changed since two-dose worker vaccine mandates were considered justified and necessary.
“I don’t think there’s any dispute that [mandates] served a role at the time,” Bennett said.
“It did make a difference in terms of our population-level response and our control, but I don’t think there was ever going to be an argument – even before Omicron – for keeping the two-dose mandates in place.”
Baxter said a significant number of Australians remained unprotected against the virus, including children under five and some immunocompromised people.
She said it is important to be cautious when it comes to mandates in aged care, health care and disability settings, where patients and clients are particularly at risk.
Earlier, Prof Margaret Hellard, from the Burnet Institute, told the inquiry authorities should still pursue measures to minimise cases and deaths, estimating Australia could record between 10,000 and 15,000 Covid-related deaths this year.
And with that, I will hand over the blog to the always brilliant Ben Doherty for the last time this week. Thanks for reading.
Penny Wong welcomed to Solomon Islands by PM Sogavare
A small update on another meeting happening today: the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, is in Solomon Islands and has met with the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
“Nice to see you,” Sogavare said as he greeted Wong, in clips released by the minister’s office.
Sogavare and Wong exchanged gifts before the meeting began.
We expect to hear from Wong at a press conference in about four hours from now. She is also expected to participate in several community events.
SA premier ‘grateful’ to be noticed by Vladimir Putin
So that press conference has ended, but I just want to back over some answers given, including South Australian premier Peter Malinauskas speaking about his Lithuanian heritage when discussing his inclusion on the list of Australians banned from travelling to Russia.
I’m just grateful that Vladimir Putin took notice.
I am very grateful for the fact that Vladimir Putin has paid attention to the leading role that South Australia is playing, for standing up for the democratic values that we collectively as a country hold dear.
My heritage, my family knows all too well the human tragedy that can occur in the face of unacceptable Russian aggression and I am very proud of the fact that my government has played a leadership role and look forward to doing that in the future.
Albanese on migration and skills shortages: ‘We are working on those issues’
So, final question is on skill shortages and whether there will be any migration program introduced to deal with the issue.
The PM says:
We are working on those issues. We are a government that have been in place for a matter of weeks. Just weeks. So we’re working on issues with the department appropriately and I’ve discussed with the minister for home affairs as well as the minister for women as well as Brendan O’Connor who has the response and skills and trainings, on how we deal with these issues.
In the immediate sense though, in the sense of the week that I became prime minister, I directed (before the ministers were appointed to those jobs), I directed the departments to look at the backlog and indeed in the meetings that I had prior to the election I foreshadowed to departmental heads that there was something that we needed to address … we got departments ready to act.
More on national cabinet secrecy …
Before the election Anthony Albanese was a fierce critic of national cabinet secrecy.
When he had his own FOI request for national cabinet documents rejected by the department of prime minister and cabinet, Albanese said it was “extraordinary” and accused Scott Morrison of an “obsession with secrecy”.
The then shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus also told the Canberra Times Labor would unwind the legal fiction that national cabinet is a subcommittee of federal cabinet, which allowed the government to block FOIs.
In March, Dreyfus reportedly said:
As [ACT chief minister] Andrew Barr has observed, ‘national cabinet is reaching the end of its fairly limited lifespan’. But Labor’s position is that it was never subject to cabinet-in-confidence rules for FOI requests, and we would adhere to this in office.
At the first meeting of national cabinet under Albanese on Friday, he was asked if he had proposed ending the secrecy and if not “what changed”.
Albanese said: “No” and “you got to ask one question”.
So, a backflip retaining secrecy and then choosing not to even explain why.
Politics was put aside at this meeting and we have put patients first and that is the most important thing … another test for all of us will be to work hard in the weeks and months to come, to come up with practical ways in which we can make the system work – GP primary care as well as hospitals, NDIS clients, aged care residents. I think we can do that … we have put patients first and there is perhaps nothing more important than that.
NSW premier Dominic Perrotet is asked what he thought of the agreement to continue the Covid-era agreement on health funding, and gives a positive outlook:
This is a great start. This is something we have been discussing at national cabinet for some time, so to have the first meeting today and for this matter to be resolved in some degree, to be extended to December, I think is incredibly welcome and supported by every state premier and chief minister.
But also I think in addition to that today, what is incredibly pleasing is a real focus of working with the states and territories in relation to substantive health reform going forward. This is something that has been in the too hard basket for too long. We certainly got a sense today from the prime minister that we came back to national cabinet for the budget. That is reassuring; there are areas where we can provide further support for our health systems right across the country.
They are all going through a challenging time, not just through Covid but obviously the impact of that going forward, and the lack of integration between the GP network and primary care and the public health system is a challenge that every jurisdiction is facing. Working closely with the commonwealth government I think there is great opportunity for substantive reform in that space because the prime minister has said this is not about money, it’s about working together on substantial reform and I thought today’s national cabinet was refreshingly collaborative.
Albanese is asked about national cabinet secrecy
First question goes to the Guardian’s Paul Karp, who asks if Albanese brought up national cabinet secrecy, referring to Albanese saying last year Scott Morrison was “obsessed with secrecy”.
Albanese dismisses the issue, answering with one word: