National Cabinet devises toolkit for reopening as 'compounding effect' bites

National Cabinet devises toolkit for reopening as 'compounding effect' bites

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on jobs in some sectors, as the National Cabinet rapidly prepares a COVID-19 toolkit that could guide safe business reopenings.

The PM pointed to the fact that out of the 11 per cent drop in economic activity, the hospitality sector (accommodation and food services) only accounted for 1.7 per cent.

But of the one million jobs lost since the crisis began, 441,000 have been in hospitality, which goes to show GDP cannot alone demonstrate the wide-reaching impacts of the current downturn.

"That's [hospitality] the sector most affected by all of this. When you look at retail services you're at just 1 per cent - that's the retail and wholesale trade - but 146,000 jobs," he said.

Other sectors that have borne the brunt on the job loss front include construction at close to 120,000 jobs lost, and arts and recreation services with 108,000 newly unemployed.

The Prime Minister added it's not just the first-round effects that we need to consider, but the compound effects on other industries.

"We have in the agricultural sector at the moment welcome news in some places - the drought's starting to break and rain's getting to areas it hasn't been, but when restaurants and cafés are closed, they're not buying from those producers like they were before," he said.

"There is the compounding of the effect, so keeping those types of places closed, and there are obviously good reasons for having them closed......it is the food producer, it is the supply chain that actually goes into those sectors that we need to take that into account.

"We are not seeking to delay any time at all in terms of trying to get things moving again, but we must be able to move them forward safely."

While reopening decisions will ultimately made by states and territories, the National Cabinet has been at full tilt on the COVID-19 planning toolkit so that businesses are ready when the time comes for restrictions to be relaxed.

"I look forward to outlining a framework later this week once we have our next meeting," the PM said.

Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter noted the COVIDSafe app - expected to surpass five million downloads today - is an important part of this health and safety approach, but businesses will also need the right protocols in place.

"As we went into the constraining phase in April with COVID-19, there were almost a million visits to the Safe Work Australia website, which was massively an increase on the number of visits that you usually get," Porter said.

"What was clear is that as the constraints were necessarily placed as a health response on the Australian economy, businesses had a great hunger for information in what was a very dynamic and fluid environment so that they could actually be doing the right thing."

In response to this need, parts of the Safe Work Australia website have been rebuilt so that employers and employees in very specific industries can ascertain what's needed at a granular level.

"What we've done is create 1300 different web pages which will apply to 23 different industry sectors," Porter said.

"Using the content filter and tailored drop down menus, they can navigate fairly simply to get precise answers to the questions that will apply to their particular business, whether they are a manufacturer, an abattoir or a café, whether they want to know how cleaning should work, what are the standards that are appropriate, what products should be used, so down to a very granular level of detail.

"That is something that we think will be a very important tool for all businesses large and small in Australia as they reanimate."

National COVID-19 Commission chair Neville Power said meetings have taken place with hundreds of individual businesses and over 100 peak bodies, associations and unions about getting businesses COVID-safe. 

He highlighted four key elements of what the toolkit aims to achieve:

  1. Reconfiguring worksites to make them safe;
  2. How to respond if there is an incident in workplace, for example how people communicate, how tracking and tracing is conducted and how people are supported;
  3. How a work site can be returned to being as safe as possible; and
  4. The communication process with employees to make sure everyone understands what's required, what's going to happen, and how their families will be supported.

"Some businesses are doing quite well and ready and continuing to operate with reconfiguring workplaces, some businesses are in the preparation stage, and some need a little more help to get there and that's where we're working at the moment," Power said.

"It'd be fair to say that the level of ingenuity and innovation that we've seen has been fantastic. Businesses are looking at this as just another business problem, and saying, how do we get as many people back to work as we possibly can, while having those protections in place to reduce the transmission of the virus.

"A key part of that has been the IR task force which has been set up with the attorney general's office and being led by Greg Combet.

"I think we're all looking forward to Having a more relaxed set of restrictions, but we need to make sure that we're continuing to do the right thing."

Updated at 4:36pm AEST on 5 May 2020.

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