National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response and changes to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy.

National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.

There have been 29,500 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 910 people have died. More than 16.3 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.

Globally there have been over 141 million cases and sadly over 3 million deaths, with around 698,000 new cases and more than 9,000 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in many countries around the world.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues to expand. To date 1,586,252 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia. The number of administration sites continues to expand with 4,500 general practices, general practice respiratory centres and Aboriginal health services now administering COVID-19 vaccinations.

Today, National Cabinet received a detailed briefing from Professor Allen Cheng, Co-Chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) on rare cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. National Cabinet will continue to receive updated advice on TTS including potential identification of risk factor and treatment options.

National Cabinet also received a presentation from the President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, on the vaccine rollout in phase 1b of the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy by GPs and other primary healthcare providers and the ongoing role for the sector.

National Cabinet welcomed Commodore Eric Young, CSC, RAN, who has been appointed as Operations Coordinator for the Commonwealth’s Department of Health’s Vaccine Operations Centre.

National Cabinet received a detailed update from Professor Brendan Murphy, Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Caroline Edwards, Associate Secretary, Commonwealth Department of Health on domestic and international supply and changes to the Australian Vaccination Strategy.

The priority of the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy remains to vaccinate vulnerable populations under priority groups 1a and 1b. The medical advice remains that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe and recommended for Australians over 50 years old and all states will continue to be prioritised AstraZeneca for Australians over 50 years old.

National Cabinet agreed in-principle to a series of changes to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy that will be put forward for approval at the next meeting of National Cabinet including options to bring forward the commencement of vaccinations for over 50 year olds under the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy priority group 2a, and the readiness of more state and territory-operated vaccination sites including mass vaccination sites, as vaccine supplies increase.

National Cabinet reinforced that general practice will continue to be the primary model of rolling out vaccinations for Australians over 50 years of age, with states and territories to consider options to supplement rollout through expanded state vaccination centres.

The Commonwealth will continue to finalise the vaccination of residential aged care facility (RACF) residents with Pfizer using an in-reach model.

National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 22 April 2021.

Establishment of a Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide

The death of any Australian Defence Force member or veteran is one death too many and a tragedy that is deeply felt by all Australians. Tragically, and heartbreakingly, this includes death by suicide.

Recognising this, the Government will take the step of recommending to the Governor‑General the establishment of a Royal Commission into Defence and Veterans Suicide, following a period of consultation on draft Terms of Reference, with the relevant community and state and territory governments.

The Royal Commission will complement the Government’s existing initiative to establish a permanent National Commission to proactively deal with future issues, including taking on other recommendations of a Royal Commission.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Royal Commission will be set up after listening to community calls for a national inquiry focusing on the systemic issues faced by Australian Defence Force members and veterans that too often results in their loss of life to suicide.

“Suicide prevention is a key priority for the Federal Government,” the Prime Minister said.

“We have always recognised that the rate of suicide of Australian Defence Force members and veterans is unacceptably high,” the Prime Minister said.

“In recognising the sacrifices made by our serving and former members and their families on behalf of the nation, we owe it to members, veterans and their families to continue to take action.”

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said the Royal Commission was another step in our efforts to build confidence, trust and hope for current and future veterans and their families that they will be supported.

“This will provide an opportunity for us all to reset, further increase our understanding of this issue, and unite the Parliament, the ex-service community, and the families who have been affected by suicide,” Minister Chester said.

“As a nation we take great pride in the men and women who have served our nation in uniform, and as a Government we have committed to help them with any mental or physical issues that are a result of that service.”

The Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash said the Attorney-General’s Department will provide administrative support to the Royal Commission.

“Reducing lives lost to suicide is a priority for the Morrison Government.”

“Our aim for this Royal Commission is that it will shed light on the critical steps we need to take so that we can reduce these heartbreaking cases of suicide.”

Crucially, the Royal Commission will not defer, delay or limit, in any way, any proposed or announced policy, legislation or regulation that we are currently implementing.

The Government intends that the Royal Commission and the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention will be established together and operate in a complementary way to achieve long-term change.

The Royal Commission will look at past deaths by suicide (including suspected suicides and lived experience of suicide risks) from a systemic point of view, while the National Commissioner will have a forward-looking role, including overseeing the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

The National Commissioner Bill currently before the Parliament will be amended to ensure their work complements the work of the Royal Commission and examines deaths by suicide in the defence and veteran community that occur after the Royal Commission has handed down their final report.

Given the complex issues for consideration, and the importance of hearing from Australian Defence Force members, veterans and their families, the Government envisages that three Commissioners will be needed to lead the inquiry. Consultation is underway to appoint these candidates.

Minister Chester will lead a public consultation process on the draft Terms of Reference and the Prime Minister will write to First Ministers inviting their contributions to the draft Terms of Reference with the view of a joint Commonwealth-State Royal Commission.

The Federal Government is committed to ensuring all the systems of support for our veterans and their families are working together, and importantly that when someone who may be struggling reaches out for help, which we are there to support them.

Commencement of two-way quarantine-free travel between Australia and New Zealand

Today, Australia and New Zealand have fulfilled their commitment to establish two-way quarantine free travel, with New Zealand removing the quarantine requirement for eligible travellers from Australia.

Trans-Tasman quarantine free travel is a world-leading arrangement that opens up travel while aiming to keep COVID out of the community.

It reflects the sustained efforts to date of both countries in managing the virus.

Both Prime Ministers are proud of the outstanding success achieved by the people of Australia and New Zealand in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This success, and our confidence that both countries have robust processes in place to ensure travel can be undertaken safely, has made quarantine free travel possible.

The travel across the Tasman demonstrates our special relationship and the long history of freedom of movement between Australia and New Zealand.

Fulfilment of our commitment will allow many friends and family across the Tasman to re-unite for the first time in over a year.

Our countries share a Single Economic Market, and two-way travel across the Tasman will help drive the economic recovery for both countries while we continue to navigate the COVID-19 global pandemic, especially in the travel and tourism sectors.

It will also enable closer trans-Tasman business engagement, which will drive broader economic activity in both Australia and New Zealand.

“Today’s milestone is a win-win for Australians and New Zealanders, boosting our economies while keeping our people safe and just in time for ANZAC Day,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“Both countries have done a remarkable job in protecting our communities from COVID and two-way flights are an important step in our road out.”

“It is truly exciting to start quarantine-free travel with Australia. Be it returning family, friends or holiday makers, New Zealand says welcome and enjoy yourself.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“The bubble marks a significant step in both countries reconnection with the world and it’s one we should all take a moment to be very proud of.”

The commencement of two-way travel follows Australia’s decision in October 2020 to allow quarantine free-travel from New Zealand.

Australia and New Zealand are also exploring opportunities to extend quarantine-free travel to other countries in the Pacific, when it is safe to do so, reflecting our close ties to the Pacific and our commitment to supporting their recovery.

Ensuring the safety of our populations continues to be a primary consideration in managing our borders. In this evolving pandemic, the risks of quarantine-free travel will be under constant review.

Travellers will need to be prepared for possible disruption to travel arrangements at short notice and to follow specific protocols before, during and after their travel. Information for travellers can be found on the Australian Smartraveller website and New Zealand’s Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Agreement with South Australia

The Morrison and Marshall Governments have signed a $1.08 billion State Energy and Emissions Reduction Deal that will deliver secure, reliable and affordable energy to South Australians and help Australia continue to meet and beat its emissions reduction targets.

Under the agreement, the governments will pursue initiatives that create additional dispatchable generation to help deliver affordable and reliable power, unlock gas supplies to help prevent shortfalls in the market, kick-start works on a new interconnector between South Australia and New South Wales, and invest in key emissions reduction projects.

The Commonwealth will contribute $660 million and South Australia will provide $422 million as part of the agreement.

Key components of the deal include:

  • a gas target of an additional 50 petajoules per annum by the end of 2023 and a stretch target of 80 petajoules per annum by 2030 to help increase the supply of reliable and affordable gas to users in South Australia and the broader east coast gas market;
  • $400 million in Commonwealth funding for investment in priority areas such as carbon capture and storage, electric vehicles, hydrogen and other emissions reduction projects in South Australia to help meet and beat Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement;
  • up to $100 million joint support for Project EnergyConnect through joint underwriting of key early works on a 50/50 basis to boost the flow of power between South Australia and New South Wales; and
  • up to $110 million in Commonwealth concessional finance for solar thermal and other storage projects in South Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the bilateral agreement is a key part of delivering on the Government’s plan to ensure South Australians get a fair deal on energy, businesses get the affordable energy they need to create jobs and Australia meets our emissions reduction targets to address climate change.

“Families and businesses need affordable, reliable power. That is what reduces prices and creates jobs. Australians also want to ensure we are doing everything we responsibly can to combat climate change,” the Prime Minister said.

“This means getting more gas into the market to support the increase in renewable solar and wind power coming into the electricity system. One works with the other to deliver lower cost, lower emissions and reliable power.

“This deal also makes sure that Australia gets ahead and stays ahead in the new energy economy by supporting the next wave of technologies, with a $400 million commitment for investing in key areas that have the potential to deliver new industries and opportunities for South Australians. This means more jobs and Australia not being left behind.

“This agreement will support investment and more jobs in South Australia and will be a key driver of our economic recovery from COVID-19.”

Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall said this is yet another example of his Government working hand in hand with the Commonwealth to lower energy bills for South Australians.

“Importantly, this MoU backs the SA-NSW Interconnector – which will secure the South Australian grid, increase renewable energy, and bring down bills for consumers in SA by around $100,” Premier Marshall said.

“This agreement also coordinates our efforts to deliver a hydrogen export industry in South Australia, deliver carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions, deliver the infrastructure needed for electric cars, and generate new revenue for farmers from carbon reductions.

“Put simply – this agreement is going to lower power bills for South Australians and create jobs in the fast growing renewables industry.”

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said through this agreement South Australians can look forward to more secure, reliable and affordable power, with benefits also flowing to the broader National Electricity Market.

“The initiatives we are partnering with South Australia on today will help keep the lights on, deliver lower energy prices, strengthen our economy and create more jobs as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic,” Minister Taylor said.

“The focus on gas will help South Australia meet its own gas needs and assist efforts to prevent forecast shortfalls in the broader east coast gas market from 2023, as part of our gas-fired recovery.”

Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan said this agreement would contribute to South Australia achieving net-100% renewables by 2030, and becoming an exporter of renewables and gas to support the national electricity market.

“By securing this historic $400 million commitment, South Australia can grow our economy and exceed our emission reduction targets,” Minister van Holst Pellekaan said.

“The joint commitment to develop hydrogen hubs in South Australia is a strong sign to our global partners in Asia and Europe that South Australia can lead the nation in this new industry.”

The inclusion of gas supply targets and regulatory reform actions in the agreement builds on the measures the Government has outlined as part of our gas-fired recovery from COVID-19.

Achieving improved and lower cost gas production in the Cooper Basin and a step-change in gas production in the Otway Basin will be a key focus.

Both governments will continue to address regulatory barriers to investment, share National Greenhouse Accounts data and work co-operatively through existing national governance frameworks to achieve national policy objectives in energy affordability, energy security and emissions reduction.

The Morrison Government is working with state and territory governments to establish agreements that accelerate cooperation on energy and emissions reduction projects.

These agreements will help deliver affordable and reliable energy to consumers, while reducing emissions and creating jobs.

The Hon Andrew Peacock AC – Statement from Prime Minister

Andrew Peacock was a great Australian and a treasure of the Liberal Party.

He was one of our greatest Liberals who helped shape Australia and the Liberal Party over three decades.

Andrew Peacock served in Parliament for over 28 years and was a Minister in the Gorton, McMahon and Fraser governments; and led the Liberal Party to two elections. After his service in Parliament, he served as Australia’s Ambassador to the United States.

During his time as a minister, Andrew Peacock held the Army; External Territories; Environment; Foreign Affairs; Industrial Relations; and Industry and Commerce portfolios.

He was Minister for the Army during part of the Vietnam War. A difficult portfolio in the most challenging of times.

As Minister for External Territories, he built a close relationship with Michael Somare, and was instrumental in gaining Australian acceptance for Papua New Guinea Independence.

His bonds with Papua New Guinea were such that he visited PNG over fifty times in his career. In honour of this work, Papua New Guinea awarded Andrew Peacock the Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu making him an honorary chief.

He was a distinguished Minister for Foreign Affairs who built deep relationships across the region. He was vocal in his denunciation of the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea, despising what he called that “loathsome regime”.

As Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Peacock led the Liberal Party in the 1984 and 1990 elections. In both elections he picked up seats against a popular prime minister, but not enough to win Government.

As Australia’s Ambassador in Washington, he used his enormous personal skills to strengthen the close relationships with our most important strategic ally.

He had a long career in the Parliament, entering it at the age of 27. He followed Sir Robert Menzies as Member for Kooyong. These were big shoes to fill, but he was not daunted and filled them in his own way.

Andrew was known as the “colt from Kooyong”, a term which did not do justice to his thoroughness, intellect and capacity to make friends far and wide.

Andrew had a rich life outside politics. He had a lifelong love of horse racing and the Essendon Football Club. His love of his daughters was a mainstay of his life. In later life, his wider family also brought him immense happiness.

To his wife Penne and his family, Jenny and I extend the sympathies of the Government and the Liberal Party.

AFGHANISTAN WAR: KNOWING WHAT WE DO NOW, AUSTRALIA SHOULD NEVER HAVE TAKEN PART SAY GREENS

Australian Greens Peace and Disarmament spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John said Australia should never have got involved in the Afghanistan War and the decision today to follow the US lead, and return our 80 remaining troops by September, had come two decades too late.

“The Afghanistan War has been an absolute disaster,” Senator Steele-John said, “Knowing what we know now, Australia never should have taken part.”

“The complete lack of any overarching strategic objective from the very beginning meant that troops on the ground were left to their own devices.

“Furthermore, the lack of oversight from chain of command meant that individual patrol commanders were enabled to set their own objectives which, as we have seen from the horrific allegations in the Brereton Inquiry report, fell far outside the behaviour Australians expect from our troops.

“The war has had a terrible and lasting impact on the Afghani people, whose country we occupied for two decades. Innocent people, including children, are dead, families have been torn apart and villages have been left in ruin.

“On top of the dreadful cost that we also have paid dearly in the lives of our own, and in resources, Australia must acknowledge the terrible legacy that we have left in Afghanistan and compensate the families, and the communities, affected by our occupation.”

Labor To Expand Justice Reinvestment to Reduce First Nations Incarceration

Today, Thursday, 15 April 2021, marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its findings, along with 339 recommendations.

In the three decades since the landmark inquiry, 474 First Nations people have died – that we know about – either in custody or in police pursuits.

Too often these deaths are the result of assault, neglect or preventable suicide. There are proven ways to reduce the causes of incarceration and reduce deaths in custody, and as a nation, it’s time we got on with it.

First Australians represent three per cent of the general population.

But in the time since the Royal Commission, First Nations people as a proportion of the imprisoned population – adults and our young people – has doubled from 14 per cent to 30 per cent.

In some places, it is nearly 90 per cent.

If we want to reduce deaths in custody, we need to reduce incarceration rates.

If we want to reduce incarceration rates, we need to reduce crime and recidivism.

If we want to reduce crime and recidivism, we need to break the cycle of disadvantage – the socio-economic drivers of these unacceptable trends.

This is why Labor is announcing a suite of substantive measures today to begin to turn the tide on the incarceration and the deaths:

  • Expanding justice re-investment to tackle the root causes of crime and recidivism;
  • Ensuring coronial inquests into deaths in custody are comprehensive, adequately resourced and inclusive of the voices of families and First Nations communities; and
  • The establishment of national consolidated real-time reporting of deaths in custody.

$79M TO EXPAND JUSTICE REINVESTMENT

It is no longer good enough just to be tough on crime. We need to be smart and effective on it too. We need to be tough on the causes of crime – the socio-economic drivers of disadvantage.

Labor will boost funding for up to 30 communities to establish justice reinvestment initiatives from 2023 to expand existing services to reduce crime and recidivism – including rehabilitation services; family or domestic violence support; homelessness support and school retention initiatives.

It involves a community-led and holistic approach to keeping at risk individuals out of the criminal justice system.

And it necessarily requires co-ordination with local police and courts.

States and territories would contribute half of the program costs and will benefit from reduced prison costs.

We will establish an independent national justice reinvestment unit to assist communities and evaluate program performance.

To be successful, justice re-investment initiatives will need to be tailored to local needs and developed in partnership with First Nations communities and organisations, including with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and with Family Violence and Prevention Legal Services to ensure that the voices and experiences of First Nations women are heard.

In Bourke, the community-led Maranguka Project is an example of justice reinvestment delivering results. Anevaluation by KPMG showed significant reductions in domestic violence, re-offending and juvenile charges, along with improved school retention.

The project was assessed as saving the NSW economy $3.1 million, five times the operating cost of the project in the same year.

Justice reinvestment projects are now being established in Mt Druitt and Moree.

A federal justice re-investment body and federal and state support for justice reinvestment were recommendations of the Australian Law reform Commission’s 2018 Pathways to Justice report.

On average, it costs $110,000 per year to keep someone in prison. Over time, justice re-investment means fewer people will be in prison, more than paying for the up-front cost of the programs. It means less crime and savings for taxpayers.

$13.5M FOR MORE EFFECTIVE CORONIAL INQUESTS

Coronial inquests should lead to real and lasting change, preventing deaths in custody and saving lives.

Coronial inquests should be comprehensive and more inclusive, by ensuring that the voices of families and First Nations communities are heard.

Labor will provide specific standalone funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services to ensure First Nations families can access culturally appropriate, timely, and fair legal assistance before, during and after all coronial processes.

CONSOLIDATED REAL-TIME REPORTING OF DEATHS IN CUSTODY

And Labor will establish consolidated real-time reporting of First Nations deaths in custody at a national level.

In government, Labor will convene a national summit bringing together First Nations and state and territory representatives to ensure coordinated action on First Nations deaths in custody.

Labor would work with the states and territories to set up a national process for real-time reporting of deaths in custody, with all deaths to be publicly reported within 24 hours.

Science on climate end-game puts Liberals and Labor targets to shame

The release of a new report shows only the Greens have a climate policy in line with the science.

The Climate Council report, Aim High, Go Fast, which drew from new data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies the need for 75% emissions reduction from Australia by 2030 – in line with the Greens policy but 3 times the Coalition’s current target (26-28%). Meanwhile the Labor party has no articulated 2030 target at all.

The Greens announced updated targets in June 2020 which match the ambition outlined in the new report.

Today the Greens Leader, Adam Bandt, called on the government and opposition to accept science-based targets of 75% by 2030 and net zero by 2035 ahead of the Climate Summit hosted by US President Joe Biden.

“The reality is stark and should be a call to drastic action for anyone who acknowledges the science,” Greens Leader Adam Bandt said.

“A tripling of our target is the only way to have any chance of keeping within our carbon budget.

“There is nowhere for the Liberals and Labor to hide. To have any credibility on climate they need to adopt these targets and rapidly transition out of gas and coal.

“For politicians that want to be honest with coal communities and the Australian public at large, this report reiterates what that honesty looks like. If you don’t have a plan to get out of gas and coal, your climate plan is a sham.

“The repeal of the successful Greens-Labor price on carbon has proven to be an act of economic and environmental sabotage. If we had continued on that trajectory we would be marching into these global summits as players in the new green economy, but instead we’re a target of ridicule and potential sanctions.

“The good news is that the rest of the world are lifting their ambition, but that makes the Australian government’s position a diplomatic as well as a climate risk,” Bandt said.

Close to 500 NSW facilities delivering COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The Australian Government is getting on with the job of rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to regional, remote and rural Australia, with almost 500 facilities in New South Wales signed up to administer the vaccine.

Federal Regional Health Minister and Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton today visited a clinic in Gunnedah, NSW where the rollout is underway.

“I’m pleased to be at Barber Street Practice in Gunnedah to visit one of the many GP clinics across rural Australia which has signed up to deliver COVID-19 vaccinations,” Minister Coulton said.

“Everyone, no matter where they live in Australia, will be offered a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine is free and the consult appointment for patients to receive their vaccinations is also free.”

The Government has established almost 1,500 primary care vaccination sites in rural Australia to administer vaccines under phase 1b to support Australians living in rural, regional and remote communities.

“Although cases of the virus have remained low in rural Australia, the Government’s targeted COVID-19 vaccine program will keep communities, like Gunnedah, safe,” Minister Coulton said.

“GP clinics, like this, provide a great service to their local community, as do all doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other health professionals living and working in country Australia.

“I’m pleased to see so many people in rural, regional and remote Australia continue to be eager to get the jab when it’s their turn.”

The COVID-19 vaccination program is one of the largest logistical exercises in Australia’s history – protecting the lives of millions of people across the country.

The Government is working closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services, general practices, state and territory governments, Primary Health Networks, General Practitioner-led Respiratory Clinics and community pharmacies, to ensure that everyone living outside our major cities has access to COVID-19 vaccinations if they choose to.

Recent updated advice from the vaccine expert taskforce, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to the Government is that the risk of a very specific blood clotting side effect from the AstraZeneca vaccine is four to six in one million people.

This is a rare, but serious side effect of this particular vaccine so on that basis the recommendation is that it is preferred that the Pfizer vaccine be provided to adults under the age of 50.

The Government is working through this implication with the states and territories as an urgent priority.

Minister Coulton said it was important to note the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine remains highly effective at preventing death and severe illness among people who have contracted COVID-19—and the incidence of this blood-clotting syndrome is very rare.

For more information about the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, visit health.gov.au.

ABS Labour Force figures for March 2021

Labour force figures released today by the ABS show that the Australian labour market continued to recover strongly in March 2021, with employment increasing by a robust 70,700 over the month, exceeding all market expectations.

There are now a record 13,077,600 Australians in work, with the level of employment now 74,300 (or 0.6 per cent) above its pre-COVID level in March 2020 and 947,100 (or 7.8 per cent) higher than the trough in the labour market recorded in May 2020.

The increase in employment over the month was due, entirely, to a rise in part-time jobs, which increased by 91,500 (or 2.2 per cent) in March, to a record high of 4,203,400. Part-time employment is now 76,800 (or 1.9 per cent) above the level recorded in March 2020.

While full-time employment fell by 20,800 (or 0.2 per cent) over the month, to 8,874,200 in March 2021, the decline this month was not surprising, given the five consecutive monthly increases totalling 359,600 recorded between October 2020 and February 2021.

Women accounted for the vast majority of the rise in employment in March, up by 55,400 (or 0.9 per cent), to a record high of 6,229,600 in March 2021, while male employment also rose, by 15,300 (or 0.2 per cent).

Aggregate hours worked continued to increase in March, up by 38.3 million hours (or 2.2 per cent), and are now 21.8 million hours (or 1.2 per cent) above the level recorded in March 2020.

The level of unemployment in Australia fell by 27,100 (or 3.4 per cent) over the month, to 778,100 in March 2021, but remains 62,100 (or 8.7 per cent) higher than it was a year ago.

The unemployment rate also decreased over the month, by 0.2 percentage points, to 5.6 per cent, but is still above the 5.2 per cent recorded in March 2020.

The stronger labour market conditions that continued into March also encouraged more people to enter the labour market, with the participation rate increasing by 0.2 percentage points over the month, to an historic high of 66.3 per cent in March 2021, above the 65.9 per cent recorded a year ago.

The rise in overall participation was driven, entirely, by women, with the female participation rate increasing by 0.4 percentage points over the month, to a record high of 61.8 per cent in March 2021.

The Government welcomes today’s positive labour force results, but acknowledges the economic and labour market fallout from COVID-19 will continue for some time to come. The Government has provided unprecedented direct economic support to help rebuild the economy and put Australia back on the road to recovery.

This includes record levels of investment in skills and training, new infrastructure projects, tax cuts, unprecedented business investment incentives and new targeted support, such as the $1.2 billion aviation and tourism package.

The Government’s Economic Recovery Plan, described as ‘key’ to saving jobs by the OECD, will continue to create employment opportunities in Australia and will help to secure this country’s economic and labour market future.