COVID-19

COVID-19: PM Changes Rules Around Churches, Overseas Farm Workers & Business Tenancies

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced changes surround restrictions on churches, overseas farm workers and business tenancies.

This afternoon’s press conference with the Prime Minister addressed issues discussed at today’s National Cabinet meeting.

Here are the key points Scott Morrison discussed:

The National Cabinet is moving into a new phase, now the baseline supports have been put in place. Our regular meetings will be able to review measures and data and make adjustements as necessary.

Had the virus kept growing at the rate that it was 12 days ago, there would be 5000 more cases. Or even more. This is a tribute to Australians to getting around and supporting the measures put in place. We must continue to do this. Even if it’s a warm day, don’t all head down to the beach.

We are now at single digit rates of growth but we need to do more.

We must continue to get the balance right, which is why the National Cabinet are reviewing measures and data to ensure we keep the economy running and the community safe. This is the road ahead. We are also very focused on the road out as well. We are still speaking about a 6 month period, it may be longer, it may be shorter, but we need to be ready.

We are now in a place where we need to put pressure down to restrain this virus, as well as looking at recovery on the other side of this.

Figures of untraced cases have dropped dramatically, which is an outstanding effort by all those involved.

Today, we had a further report on modelling work that we have had done, it’s not yet complete. It looks at multiple scenarios so that we can look at the course of the virus, to ensure it runs at a pace that our health systems can handle it. At the current rate, if we keep doing the work to expand our medical system, our capacity to handle it looks promising but the virus writes its own rules.

Also agreed today was a range of practical issues. From this afternoon we’ll be putting out a daily dashboard on statistics on www.health.gov.au. It will be published each afternoon.

We also agreed that Easter and religious services, the places where broadcasting and streaming is taking place from, will be considered as workplaces. So the same rules that apply to a workplace will apply to churches or wherever they are streaming from. There can be additional people who are assisting, like the priest, technical people etc. Just to be clear though, Churches are not open. Places of worship are not open. But those streaming services, can have more people in the building to help this to be conducted if the 4m squared rules are applied for those who NEED to be there.

In regards to overseas workers, who are here, and want to be involved in harvesting crops, or involved in working holidays, they will be able to travel to areas who need workers. They will be required to self isolate, and register, and do it where they are now, before they transfer to another part of the country for work.

At that time their employer needs to ensure they’ve done this before they let them start work. This ensures communities will be protected. Workers accommodation also needs to respect strict health requirements. You can’t have 6 people living out of a caravan in the country. Local governments and shires will be working ensure those conditions are put in place.

On the subject of the economy, we are doing everything to provide the necessary supports.

In relation to Jobkeeper and local governments and their support, this will be provided by the state government. Local governments are not eligible for Jobkeeper. If those employees need support they will get it from the State Government.

In regards to commercial tenancies and retail tenancies, we have an industry code being developed.

It’s not sufficient yet, and is being worked on and we hope to have something by Tuesday.

What we are seeking is for the industry to have a mandatory code, where appropriate. It would be mandatory for landlords and tenants, to adhere to this code if they have under $50m in turnover and are involved in Jobkeeper program (so are experiencing a 30% loss of turnover). The Government is working to get a mandatory code to ensure both landlords and tenants can get through this. What is important is both parties negotiate in good faith. It needs to have a proportionality principle. The turnover of the tenant needs to be reflected in the decisions made. This will be made more clear in the coming days.

On example is, if rent was frozen for 3 or 6 months, the overall lease can be extended on the other side. This protect landlords and tenants. Another thing do to would be agree to a different price paid monthly on the lease. The government won’t be prescriptive about this. It needs to have flexibility. We want people to discuss this. Banks needs to come to the party too. Banks are already moving to provide new options for clients. The National Cabinet would like this code to be finalised ASAP. If you are in this arrangement, you would have that protection on issues around evictions, claims on penalties, interest protection on rent. Landlords would also be protected so that leases can’t be terminated on those grounds.

Parliament to resume this week. It will be called to do work it needs to throughout this crisis.

The Jobkeeper payment is a guarantee to the bank, so if employers can’t afford to pay employees before May 1, they should talk to their banks. Jobkeeper payment is not mandatory for businesses.

The Acting Immigration Minister will have more to say about international students and other visa holders. Announcements will be made in coming days.

Again, people should not be going away for Easter holidays. This is Easter is to be spent at home.

On the other side of school holidays, Education Ministers will be working with medical experts to work out what the rest of the school year will look like. We don’t want children to lose a year of education.

More to come.

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