The National Cabinet met again today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, recent progress following the Victorian outbreak, easing restrictions (including international border measures), helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment and getting the economy moving again.

National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Australia has done well on both the health and economic fronts compared to most countries around the world.

The Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, provided an update on the latest epidemiological data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.

There have been more than 27,000 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 905 people have died. There are now around 220 active cases in Australia, a decrease from around 1,100 cases five weeks ago. There continues to be differences in testing rates between states and territories, and National Cabinet agreed on the importance of enhanced testing. More than 8.4 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.

National Cabinet noted the increase in COVID-19 cases in many countries and the comparative strength of Australia’s effort in addressing COVID compared to most other developed economies.

National Cabinet noted the 2020-21 Budget and the collective work needed across the Federation to facilitate economic recovery measures. National Cabinet thanked the Council on Federal Financial Relations for its work and noted further work is underway to coordinate the federation-wide economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to drive a more productive economic recovery.

National Cabinet will meet again on Friday 13 November 2020.

Framework for National Reopening – A COVID Normal Australia

The Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory agreed in-principle to a new ‘Framework for National Reopening Australia by Christmas’, building on and enhancing the 3-Step Framework for a COVID Safe Australia developed in May 2020.

Western Australia did not agree to the National Framework for Reopening, specifically the domestic border and international arrival proposals.

The Framework will provide the Australian community and businesses with a way forward where Australians can live and work in a COVID Normal Australia, recognising that the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 means that it will be present until a COVID-19 vaccine is found. The Framework underscores the need for continued health vigilance while providing a path to easing the physical and mental burden on Australians.

The Framework will establish an updated Common Operating Picture with strengthened criteria to ensure that health systems are prepared and detailed information is publicly available on COVID-19 conditions. The criteria take into account the National Hotel Quarantine Review by Ms Jane Halton AO PSM and will be informed by further work underway by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO on digital contact tracing and public health systems, and advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC).

The Commonwealth and seven states and territories agreed to finalise the Framework by the next National Cabinet meeting on 13 November 2020 and ensure that a new Common Operating Picture is publicly available by 1 December 2020.

The Commonwealth and seven states and territories agreed that reopening by Christmas under the Framework sets a pathway for the removal of domestic border restrictions where it is safe to do so, and with free movement of people and freight consistent with National Cabinet’s strategy of suppression with a goal of no community transmission.

Improving Quarantine Systems

Ms Jane Halton AO PSM presented the final report of the National Review of Hotel Quarantine. National Cabinet thanked Ms Halton for the extensive work undertaken to review the hotel quarantine system in seven of eight states and territories.

Ms Halton noted that quarantine constitutes a first line of defence in preventing the importation of COVID-19 into Australia. While the quarantine system should be managed to limit breaches, the robustness of a second line of defence (testing and contact tracing) is essential as it is not possible to manage a quarantine system that is completely error free. There must also be a third line of defence – physical distancing, hygiene and health system capacity.

National Cabinet agreed to publish the National Review of Hotel Quarantine and to implement  recommendations, noting that the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory had already established an emergency-surge quarantine capacity supported by the Northern Territory at Howard Springs.

National Cabinet agreed to keep working on risk stratification as an appropriate approach to progressively increasing the number of international arrivals to Australia in a COVID-safe manner, including Australians returning home. Potential alternative approaches could include quarantine such as  home quarantine, on farm quarantine, quarantine by universities and private providers, and use of technology and expanding international travel arrangements with very low risk countries and cohorts.

As noted by Ms Halton and AHPPC, alternatives to hotel quarantine for low risk cohorts can also free up significant capacity in Australia’s hotel quarantine system for returning Australians.

National Cabinet noted that any changes to quarantine settings for international arrivals must be done in a way that maintains health considerations as an absolute priority.

Australians returning home 

National Cabinet noted that there are a significant number of Australians wishing to return home from overseas, with the Commonwealth already taken steps to further support those facing personal hardship.

National Cabinet agreed that all jurisdictions would continue to work towards enabling more Australians to return home.  Existing international air passenger arrival caps will continue until 21 November 2020, with ongoing review by National Cabinet.

National Cabinet noted that a number of the states and territories will support the Commonwealth in increasing the number of vulnerable Australians returning home.  This includes the Commonwealth-Northern Territory arrangement to provide 500 beds at Howard Springs, with the first flight dedicated to vulnerable Australians arriving in Darwin today.

A further arrangement, soon to be finalised with the Australian Capital Territory, will support 150 returning Australians every 16-18 days.  In addition, a limited and dedicated number of spaces will be provided on existing international commercial services for vulnerable Australians where possible. This includes an additional:

  • 140 arrivals per week into Perth;
  • 100 arrivals every 14-16 days into Adelaide;
  • 150 arrivals per week into Queensland(to be finalised once a new Government is formally sworn in).

Tasmania has also offered further support where required.

The Commonwealth thanks the states and territories for their support in helping more Australians return home for Christmas.

Mental Health National Cabinet Reform Committee

National Cabinet noted 3,318 Australians died by suicide in 2019, equivalent to nine Australians each and every day. This represents a significant loss to our communities, our families and our nation.

Today, National Cabinet commissioned the new Mental Health National Cabinet Reform Committee. The Committee will:

  • deliver a new National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement by November 2021; and
  • oversee, and provide advice to National Cabinet on, the implementation of the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan which guides jurisdictions’ responses to COVID-19.

This work builds on all jurisdictions’ efforts to scale resources and investment to support Australians’ mental health and prevent suicide during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Aged Care Emergency Response Centres

National Cabinet again noted the critical importance of minimising the COVID-19 pandemic risk in aged care, cementing preparedness arrangements based on the three previously agreed actions of 21 August.

The Department of Health continues weekly engagement with the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission and states and territories. Weekly jurisdictional reporting is now established.

All jurisdictions have provided assurances that their Aged Care Emergency Response Centres can be stood up within 48 hours. Jurisdictions have completed the Response Centre Preparedness Assessment which has provided additional clarity about where further focus is needed.

National Cabinet expressed its thanks to the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre which has supplied to all jurisdictions—through the Department of Health—with its extensive suite of resources for use or adaption as required.

The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission continues its program of infection control site visits to residential aged care facilities in all jurisdictions to monitor and assess aged care preparedness. The Commission is distributing summary reports of its spot check visits to each jurisdiction to enable targeted focus on areas for improvement.

States and territories are supporting the Commission’s preparedness visits through sharing of public health intelligence, conducting supplementary visits to residential aged care facilities and prioritising face to face infection prevention and control training. Across jurisdictions a range of training models are in place. States and territories continue to consider how best to tailor this training to their jurisdictional requirements.

National Federation Reform Council

National Cabinet agreed to establish a Taskforce on Veterans’ Wellbeing in recognition of the challenges faced by our current and ex-service personnel. The Taskforce will meet at the first meeting of the National Federation Reform Council on 11 December.

On 26 June 2020, National Cabinet agreed that Mr Peter Conran AM would conduct a review of the former COAG Councils and Ministerial Forums with a view to rationalising and resetting the structure and work programs.

Today, National Cabinet accepted the Review’s recommendations that include reducing the number of ministerial forums and ensuring that those that remain are more agile and responsive, with direct responsibility for decision-making resting with Ministers. Consistent with the direction set by National Cabinet, ministers’ meetings will not report to National Cabinet (or the National Federation Reform Council) unless tasked.

This represents a significant reform to Commonwealth-State relations and will significantly reduce bureaucracy and red tape. National Cabinet also noted that the range of significant reforms agreed today have come about directly through the collaboration of National Cabinet, as the country comes together to continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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