National cabinet has agreed to share more data on Covid-19 testing response times and committed to a suppression strategy with the goal of zero community transmissions.
After the meeting on Friday, Scott Morrison told reporters there was “some better news” with just 300 new cases in Victoria but held out New South Wales, which recorded seven new cases, as the exemplar of dealing with outbreaks.
Despite Morrison declaring that “outbreaks are not a reason to slow things down” when he unveiled the three-stage plan to reopen the economy on 8 May, there is now acceptance in the national cabinet that all states and territories need to take precautions to avoid community transmission, currently only occurring in those two states.
On Friday, South Australia capped gatherings in the home to 50 people, Western Australia again delayed its phase five of eased restrictions, which will remove the two square metre rule limiting the capacity of venues, and the Tasmanian government proposed a travel bubble with SA, WA and the Northern Territory.
These moves follow NSW restricting “dancing” and “mingling” at events such as weddings and the decision on Thursday by the Australian Capital Territory to delay further easing of restrictions.
The chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, told reporters in Canberra the three-stage plan was “always designed to be a strategy for opening up, and if necessary, closing down”.
As a result of the second wave, “all the other states have committed to reconsidering their complete opening up”, he said, remaining on an “alert phase” with physical distancing rather than aiming for a “pre-Covid normal” as New Zealand has done.
Morrison said national cabinet had for “many months” been working towards the goal of suppression with “no community transmission”, arguing eradication is not possible because “there will always be cases that come because Australia has not completely shut itself off from the world”.
The commonwealth, states and territories agreed to share up-to-date data on contact tracing and tracking, such as the time taken to conduct tests and contact people with results.
Morrison said the information would “ensure that we are collectively aware of what is occurring in all the states and territories and that we’re picking up at the earliest possible opportunity where there may be some vulnerabilities”. Kelly said the metrics would improve “transparency” about where help is needed.
Earlier the treasury secretary, Steven Kennedy, briefed national cabinet on the state of the economy including $300bn of commonwealth spending and lending and about $42bn from states and territories.
Morrison said there was “a strong platform for states to take additional economic measures where they see the opportunity to do that”.
Morrison also claimed unanimous national cabinet agreement on plans to implement single-touch approvals and interim environmental protection standards, although 24newsreads.com Australia understands some states have reservations about the reforms.
The outcome of Friday’s meeting responds to an interim report into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, as the federal government plans to push ahead with legislation that conservationists fear will be too vague and will not improve wildlife protection.
The national cabinet agreed to fast track 15 major projects, which Morrison said were worth $17bn in economic activity and 66,000 jobs, and to move to single-touch environmental approvals.
Morrison said the discussion about the EPBC Act was “really positive” and that all states and territories wanted to be “first movers” on negotiating interim standards and bilateral agreements with the commonwealth.
Morrison said the commonwealth, states and territories wanted to “get on with it”, to “create jobs” and “get projects happening”.
“We want to remove the impediments that are unnecessarily preventing investment and development from taking place.
“Now, this process will enable [environmental] standards to be upheld, but to ensure process doesn’t destroy projects.”
The national cabinet agreed to a protocol on freight movement and domestic border control, which will be hardened to an enforceable code by legislation or public health orders in each state and territory.
Earlier in July, the Casula cluster in south-west Sydney was linked to the Melbourne outbreak by a freight worker who attended a workplace and the Crossroads Hotel.