Australian governments met today as the National Cabinet to take further action to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives, and to save livelihoods.
Leaders thanked all Australians who have acted responsibly towards their fellow Australians and have been undertaking social distancing and isolation measures.
It’s clear that social distancing measures are working, we’re slowing the spread of the virus. But there is a long way to go, we will be living with this virus for at least six months.
National Cabinet reminds Australians to stay home for the Easter break – stay home and save lives. The Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway on the latest data and medical advice in relation to coronavirus.
There are more than 6,100 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 51 people have died. Testing keeps Australians safe. Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world with more than 323,000 tests completed.
National Cabinet stressed the critical importance of continuing to adhere to self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine arrangements for returned travellers. Leaders also highlighted the importance of people who are self-isolating and registering on the COVID-19 app.
National Cabinet noted that Australia was now in the suppression phase of the response, which will last for some time. Restrictions will be reviewed regularly and planning for the medium to long-term has begun.
National Cabinet agreed to meet again on Thursday 16 April 2020.
Updated quarantine arrangements for non-cruise maritime and air crew
Australia’s skilled maritime workforce plays a unique and strategically important role in Australia’s supply chains.
National Cabinet agreed that the Australian Government and all states and territories will implement a consistent and immediate exemption for non-cruise maritime crew to provide for the transiting to and from their places of work, within and across jurisdictions with agreed documentation.
National Cabinet noted that states and territories may adopt additional protocols in consultation with industry that creates protection for crews on board vessels, and will put in place appropriate penalties for companies and individuals that are found to be in breach of the requirements of the exemption which will be reviewed on 1 June 2020.
The Australian Border Force, in consultation with the Commonwealth Department of Health, will continue to manage the safe movement of maritime crew. Air crew play a vital role in maintaining a connection between Australia and other nations.
National Cabinet agreed to implement the revised advice from the AHPPC in relation to air crew quarantine exemptions. As a result, air crew on international flights will be required to self-isolate at their place of residence (or hotel if not in their local city) between flights or for 14 days, whichever is shorter.
Domestic air crew are exempt from self-isolation requirements except when a state or territory specifically prohibits entry.
Hardship provisions for energy, water and rates
Today, the National Cabinet agreed to a nationally consistent approach to hardship support across the essential services for households and small businesses.
The Commonwealth is already taking action across the energy and telecommunications sectors to scale-up hardship support provided by those industries.
State and territory governments agreed to adopt similar principles for the essential services within their remit, including water utilities and local governments. They will work with the organisations supplying those services to apply the principles to each sector.
The principles will also ensure accessing support for essential services is as simple and easy as possible. They specify that businesses eligible for the JobKeeper payment will automatically be considered to be under ‘financial stress’ for the purposes of accessing hardship arrangements.
These principles, modelled on the Government’s recently released Statement of Expectations for the energy sector, include:
· Offering flexible payment options to all households and small businesses in financial stress – including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment;
· Not disconnecting restricting supply/services to those in financial stress;
· Deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listing;
· Waiving late fees and interest charges on debt; and
· Minimising planned outages for critical works, and provide as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses during any outage.
Those who can continue to pay their bills need to keep doing so – this is critical to ensuring the ongoing viability of essential services providers. But we need to ensure an appropriate safety net is in place for those experiencing financial stress.
These are extremely challenging times. It is vital that essential service providers work with governments to deliver the support the Australian people need.
Implementation of visa arrangements in the agricultural sector
The National Cabinet noted the approach to implementing measures to support the agricultural workforce needed to secure Australia food supplies:
· the Commonwealth has implemented the visa measures and is urgently working on the associated changes to the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme to ensure appropriate labour market testing continues;
· the same conditions that apply under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa arrangements with regard to approved employers will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, including employer sponsorship to continue the link with the agricultural sector;
· industry is leading on protocols for managing the risks of coronavirus in farming workplaces, including social distancing to mitigate public health risks;
Commonwealth and state and territory Agriculture Ministers will oversee and coordinate implementation and will report back to National Cabinet on progress.
National Cabinet agreed that state and territory governments are responsible for:
· the introduction and enforcement of self-isolation requirements to avoid the spread of coronavirus;
· applying sanctions where those requirements are not met and, where appropriate, referring concerns about visa holder compliance to the Department of Home Affairs for action;
· ensuring accommodation complies with self-isolation and social distancing requirements, in conjunction with local governments and the National Farmers Federation;
· seeking to harmonise these requirements as far as practical.
National Cabinet agreed that state and territory Agriculture Ministers will support the adoption of – as consistent as possible requirements – in respect to declarations required from employers and employees to facilitate agricultural employment.
National Cabinet agreed that the Australian and state and territory governments will undertake best efforts for these arrangements to be in place by 17 April 2020, or as soon thereafter as practicable.
National Cabinet agreed that employers and employees must continue to adhere to Australian and State and Territory government health requirements in respect to the management of coronavirus.