In a sign of how well society and state and federal governments have been in curbing the spread of the virus in Australia, Mr Morrison also said restrictions could start to be lifted in a month so long as necessary health safeguards were all in place.
Reflecting this confidence, Mr Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese discussed last night having a routine sitting of Parliament in Canberra in May, three months before the next sitting was scheduled.
“We want to send a very clear message that we are well ahead of where we thought we might be at this point and that would mean that we might be able to have the Parliament meet again on a regular basis,” Mr Morrison said.
He also envisaged schools could be back by mid-May with the decision to re-open left to each state, while next Tuesday the federal and state governments will discuss allowing a resumption of elective surgery due to the lower-than-expected demand on hospitals.
Mr Morrison dropped the economic policy bombshell on Thursday following a meeting of the National Cabinet which was addressed by the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Philip Lowe, and the Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy.
Mr Morrison said the men told the meeting that as Australia emerged from the crisis, “business as usual when it comes to the policy frameworks that we had prior to the election will need to be reconsidered on the other side, to ensure that we can achieve the growth that will be necessary for our economy to get people back into work, to get our economy back on track”.
“There was a very clear message from the advisers, particularly Dr Lowe, that if you think we can grow the economy under the old settings then we need to think again,” he said.
“We are going to have to have economic policy measures that are going to have to be very pro-growth, that are going to enable businesses to employ people, that will enable businesses to invest and businesses to move forward.”
‘We must not waste a second’
Asked if that meant revisiting cutting company tax – something Mr Morrison ruled out before last year’s election – and overhauling the IR system, he was non-committal.
“It would be premature to speculate at this point,” he said.
The states will also be involved in boosting business investment and Mr Morrison said he wanted to see “more roads fixed and bridges built”.
With the nation accruing massive debt and deficits, unemployment tipped to hit 10 per cent by June and economic growth forecast to recede by 6.7 per cent this financial year, Mr Morrison said the role of government in supporting the economy during the crisis must recede as it abated.
“Our government sees business at the centre of the economy. We do not see government as the centre of the economy.”
Chief executive of the Business Council Jennifer Westacott led calls at The Australian Financial Review Business Summit in March to use the crisis as an opportunity to embrace productivity enhancing reforms.
She said on Thursday that Mr Morrison was “absolutely right” to nominate a business-led recovery because “business is at the centre of a growing economy, creating jobs and better living standards”.
“Business has played a crucial role alongside government to support the community, jobs and the economy at this incredibly difficult time,” she said.
“Business can accelerate the rate of growth and bring forward large projects so more people can return to work faster and more jobs can be created.
“There is no doubt that we need more pro-growth policies. We need to be more competitive and we need an environment that attracts investment.
“And, once and for all we need to make it easier to do business. We need to get rid of unnecessary red tape, much of which has been put on hold during this crisis, because it is an obvious impediment to doing business.”
“We must not waste a second of this new level of co-operation in our society to get important things done.”
As the latest numbers on the coronavirus outbreak showed the dramatic slowing in the rate of spread was now entrenched, Mr Morrison said social distancing and hand washing protocols would have to remain in place until a vaccine was found.
But the restrictions on society and work could start to be lifted in as few as four weeks so long as three conditions were met.
These were a more extensive virus testing regime so asymptomatic people could be tested, a robust-enough health system to ensure any outbreak could be corralled, and contact tracing needed to be lifted to “an industrial capability”.
The latter requires people to download an app that will be ready in a fortnight and which will enable the Health Department to track movements and contact immediately anyone who has been in close proximity to a coronavirus case.
“If we can get that in place, get the tracing capability up from where it is, that will give us more options and Australians more freedoms,” Mr Morrison said.
He warned against complacency, saying any relapse could cause a severe outbreak and massive economic damage.
“We will use the next four weeks, to make sure we can get these (three requirements) in place, and the baseline restrictions that have been set, some weeks ago, will remain in place until we can achieve those three goals,” he said.
“A positive thing to say is we have often found ourselves, as we have now, in a better place ahead of time.”
Mr Morrison also announced that at a meeting of G20 Finance Ministers on Wednesday night, which included Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, that the nations agreed to defer loan repayments from developing nations.
In Australia’s case, that meant deferring payments from Papua New Guinea on a $US300 million interest-only loan until the end of the year.