Thank you very much. It’s great to be back here at the National Press Club at the start of another year.

Let me begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, their elders past, present and emerging.

I also recognise any veterans who are with us today, as well as any serving men and women of our Australian Defence Forces and thank you all for your great service to our country.

I particularly acknowledge and have many colleagues here today, so I'm not going to call the roll, but the Deputy Prime Minister - Barnaby, it's great to have you here with me.

Also, I acknowledge my dear friend Marise Payne for one particular reason - in just a few weeks' time, Marise will become the longest-serving female senator in Australia's history. And the longest continuous-serving parliamentarian as a female. And so, congratulations to you, Marise. You're a great colleague and you've served our country incredibly well. As a Liberal, I'm very proud of you. And as a mate too.

The past three years have been some of the most extraordinary that our nation has ever experienced.

Younger generations have never known anything like it.

The succession of natural disasters from drought to flood, fires, pestilence, a once in a century global pandemic, the recession it caused, has pushed our country to the very limits.

It has been tough raising your family, keeping your job, doing your job - especially for those health and aged care workers, who we thank for their tremendous service.

It’s been tough keeping your small business or your farm going.

It's been tough keeping your children’s education up, caring for elderly relatives, those with a disability, and it’s been very tough on them too.

Family plans have been disrupted. And worst of all it’s been heartbreaking to lose so many loved ones, especially in recent weeks, and on many occasions we have been unable to come together to farewell them.

Our way of life has been completely turned upside down.

For so many Australians it has been exhausting - financially, physically, emotionally.

And when we thought we were just breaking free - the rains have come down, the cyclone has hit or a new and completely different strain of the virus, like Omicron, has come and changed all the rules.

And I don’t doubt many have stayed awake at night after telling their kids or those they care for, or those they employ that it’s all going to be OK, but wondering to themselves, in the quiet of that night, whether it really will be.

And as Prime Minister I can assure you I have asked those same questions and lived with the same doubts.

It has been crushing to visit towns and homes, often with Jen, devastated by storms, ravaged by flood or fires, to walk across barren pastures, to see the queues outside Centrelink or testing centers, to see the empty shops and restaurants, as I saw in Cairns just over the weekend.

To see the lives and livelihoods of Australians disrupted through no fault of their own and through circumstances well beyond theirs, and our, control.

So I understand and acknowledge your frustration, especially with how the global pandemic has played out over this past very difficult summer. And I want to thank Australians. You’ve had to put up with a lot.

The fact that far worse outcomes have been experienced overseas, which we know, well that gives some important perspective, but it doesn’t soften the blow.

And it’s fair enough that this disappointment leads you to ask, couldn’t you have done more, couldn’t this have been avoided, after all, aren’t you responsible?

I get that. For me, as Prime Minister, accepting this responsibility means asking yourself and challenging yourself every single day with these same very questions every single day. And I can assure you I do.

I haven’t got everything right.

And I’ll take my fair share of the criticism and the blame. It goes with the job.

But so does getting up each day, dealing with the challenges, staying positive, and believing in the strength and good nature and resilience of the Australian people and, above all, never giving up.

In these times we have experienced, there has been no guidebook and you have to make decisions in real time.

But with hindsight the view does change and lessons are learned.

Lessons that will continue to be invaluable to me and my team, so many of whom are with me today, and those out there with their communities, to deal with challenges and uncertainties that are still ahead.

And I’d like to share a few of them with you.

Firstly, you’ve always got to focus on getting the balance right.

From the outset of the pandemic, I have said our twin goals have been to save lives and save livelihoods. This is how we protect our Australian way of life. And I have always sought to balance our health objectives with our broader societal and economic well-being.

We must respect the virus but we must not live in fear of it. You must be prepared to listen to that advice, but also to take the decisions that strike the right balance. Because it is we who have been trusted with those decisions.

Secondly, you must be very practical. The virus does not care what your political views are. It writes the rules about how it behaves and we must then write our rules about how we respond. And these rules must be flexible - they will change. There is no set and forget in a pandemic like this. There are times when you have to pull back and there are times you have to push forward. And what may have been the right response at one point in time during the pandemic may flip on you and it may not be the right response in a later phase of the pandemic.

Thirdly, you must accept that you may lose a few battles along the way.

And when these setbacks occur you must keep moving forward. You can’t dwell on the things that haven’t play out as you may have expected or liked. When this occurs, the job is to get across the problem and make the changes needed as soon as possible. And get on with it.

This is what we did with the vaccine rollout when our contracted supplies were blocked and the advisory bodies had limited our use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. These were big challenges. But we turned it around.

It is what we are doing right now to overcome the supply chain shortages created by the onset of the Omicron variant. It’s only been with us two months. And this included the supply of Rapid Antigen Tests.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 tests have always been free at official testing clinics. Never changed.

These tests have been sourced and provided by the state and territory governments. The Commonwealth picks up 50% of the bill - just like those going out to schools right now.

The unprecedented surge in cases caused by Omicron changed everything. It was like dealing with a completely new virus. The medical advice to Government on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests changed and so did our response.

And so since then, the Government contracted 78 million Rapid Antigen Tests to help meet significant new demands in the states and the territories and the private sector.

Over 652,000 concession card holders have already accessed over 2.7 million free Rapid Antigen Tests through the community pharmacy concession card holder program which commenced just over a week ago.

The Government is also delivering 10 million Rapid Antigen Tests to support state and territories clinics.

And in our own area of responsibility, around 8 million tests have already been provided to aged care facilities with the purchasing of those tests beginning back in August last year.

Now fourthly, you must work together and learn from each other, but understand that everywhere is not the same. We have constantly engaged with experts and Governments around the world to share experience, data and information. And they’ve learnt from us, I can tell you. But that doesn’t mean that what is done elsewhere is the right solution for our conditions or circumstances here in Australia.

Australia has many differences with the rest of the world. Our regulatory authorities, our seasons, our health and social security systems, our federation. Unique. Cut and paste doesn't cut it in a pandemic. And that is why we designed JobKeeper, rather than go down the UK path for wage subsidies, which others recommended, that would have provided greater income support to those on higher wages than those on lower wages and could not have been easily delivered, or promptly delivered, through our tax system or payments system.

So we said no, that wasn't a good idea. We won't do that. We'll design a different system. And we did. And it saved lives and livelihoods all across this country.

Fifthly, you must have clearly defined principles, grounded in your values, to guide your decisions and you must stick to them.

Now, I outlined these at the AFR Summit back at the start of the pandemic.

And those have included ensuring that initiatives and programmes are targeted, time limited, use existing delivery mechanisms, that they are proportionate, are fiscally responsible, locally relevant and scalable.

You must also focus on what you can control and what you are responsible for.

A good example is respecting the constitutional responsibilities of the states and the Commonwealth under our federation. The pandemic did not suspend the constitution or the federation. It did not change the rules about what the states and the commonwealth have always been responsible for. They didn’t get any more powers, they didn’t get any less. And I have always sought to put the national interest first by seeking to work together with the Premiers and Chief Ministers through the National Cabinet and not engage in petty fights. That wouldn’t have helped anyone. My job was to get everyone in the room together. I have sought to work together to make it work.

And finally, never forget that there is more to deal with than COVID.

During this pandemic, as just one example, we have simultaneously been dealing with one of the most significant shifts in global and regional security we have seen since before the Second World War.

Changes that present a direct threat to Australia’s economic and security interests. So while we have been battling the pandemic, we have concluded the historic, significant AUKUS agreement, powered up the Quad, concluded a landmark defence agreement with Japan, supported our Pacific family, and concluded comprehensive strategic partnership agreements with some of our most important partners: India, the first country to have one with ASEAN and the south-east nations there, South Korea, Malaysia and our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea.

So here we are. Not perfect, but still standing strong, enduring and looking positively to the future, as earlier generations did when they faced their time of great generational trial and challenge.

Let’s talk about our health response more and its resilience. Our health response has ensured that our health and aged care system has stood up to the global pandemic, where in so many other countries around the world it has collapsed.

More than 40,000 lives have been saved, when compared to the death rate from COVID in other countries just like Australia. We have one of the lowest death rates from COVID in the world, including from Omicron.

We have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. More than 93 per cent of Australians aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.

Today, less than one year after vaccinations commenced, Australia’s 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination will be administered today. That’s around 1 million on average every week, and that’s including 8 million doses of boosters.

We are one of only a handful of countries, a small number, able to be vaccinating children down to age 5.

And since the pandemic began our Government has committed an additional $40 billion to support Australia’s health response to the pandemic. That’s more than Medicare and the PBS in any given year.

This has included going 50/50 with the States and Territories with over $8 billion provided to date to assist state health systems managing the pandemic with hospitals, testing and workforce costs.

More than 91 million telehealth services have been delivered, since the beginning of the pandemic, a big health innovation, to over 16 million patients since the beginning of the pandemic.

New oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 will start to become available shortly and the other antivirals are already in place.

Our agreement with Moderna and the Victorian Government announced in December, many months in the making, will ensure we can manufacture mRNA vaccines in Australia.

That adds to our support for Resmed manufacturing ventilators in Western Sydney, Med Con’s mask manufacturing in Shepparton, Aspen Medical’s manufacturing of PPE in Brisbane, Innovation Scientific’s production of TGA approved Rapid Antigen Tests in Western Sydney and of course CSL’s manufacturing of vaccines and antivenoms in Melbourne. We’ve been making this stuff here.

Of course, none of our health outcomes would be possible without the hard work, the long hours and dedicated care offered by our frontline health and aged care workforce. The true heroes of this pandemic. Their resilience over the past two years has been nothing short of inspiring.

That’s why I am announcing today the Government is providing a further $209 million to support the aged care workforce to continue to care for older Australians through this pandemic.

Now, this is a responsible commitment that builds on the $393 million provided over three payments to 234,000 aged care workers earlier in the pandemic. It worked, we’re doing it again.

In coming months, two bonus payments of up to $400 each will be paid to aged care workers including those providing direct care, food or cleaning services.

Our pandemic investments in mental health and suicide prevention will also leave a lasting legacy.

While every death by suicide is a tragedy, every life saved is a great blessing. Official figures show that while demands for mental health services surged off the charts during the pandemic, remarkably, death by suicide rates across the country actually fell. And it remained at those lower levels. That’s extraordinary.

We funded services that did a brilliant job of saving lives. $1 billion in new funding for services such as Headspace - and a shout-out to Pat McGorry, who's been a great adviser and friend to us through all of this pandemic. Lifeline, to John Brogden and the whole team there. Beyond Blue, with Julia and the Kids Helpline - they have done such an amazing job, being there for Australians in their darkest hour.

Our National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan was announced in May 2020.

Also very early in the pandemic when we were asking Australians to stay home, we knew and recognised that for so many, home is not safe for them, especially women.

And in March 2020, as part of our $150 million COVID-19 Domestic Violence Support Package, we provided $20 million to boost capacity for Commonwealth programs including 1800RESPECT, Mensline and the Help Is Here campaign.

And in turn, $130 million was provided directly to state and territory governments for emergency accommodation for those impacted, and a range of frontline support services, working together. Now this commitment has been extended a further two years.

And to ensure the viability of NDIS providers we provided more than $666 million in advance payments, and made changes to allow eligible NDIS providers to claim a payment to support their disability workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Strong health resilience, built through a once in a century pandemic.

Our economy has also shown formidable resilience through the pandemic. It has outstripped the performance of most advanced economies in the world.

And this was greatly assisted by entering the pandemic with a balanced budget delivered by strong financial management.

While Omicron has impacted economic activity over January, Treasury analysis shows that the underlying strength of our economy is unshaken. On several occasions now our economy has bounced back strongly from the impacts of the pandemic. And it will again.

Our AAA credit rating remains intact, one of only nine countries to achieve this.

At 3.5 per cent, inflation in Australia is running well below other advanced economies, and the pressures are less than in those, such as 7 per cent in the US and 5 per cent in the UK.

There are more people in work today than before the pandemic and even compared to when I stood before you this time last year.

In fact there are more Australians of working age in jobs today - 76.2 per cent - than at any time in Australia’s recorded economic history.

That’s what a job plan looks like when it works.

Unemployment is at 4.2 per cent. When I stood here a year ago, it was 6.6 per cent.

And women and young people have been major beneficiaries of our economic plan.

Female employment, since we were elected, has increased by more than 1 million since our Government was elected. 1 million. And our youth unemployment has fallen to below 10 per cent for the first time since 2008. And as my colleague knows, nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than hearing young people are getting into jobs.

Through the heavy lifting of more than $100 billion in Federal Government COVID business support, hundreds of thousands of livelihoods and businesses have been saved.

And our ongoing tax incentives for investment, apprenticeship wage subsidies and record investment in new training places are helping small and medium sized businesses and their employees to push through.

Our apprentice wage subsidies have driven a 27 per cent increase in apprentices and trainees over the past year.

Right now, there are now 220,000 trade apprentices currently in training. That is the highest level of apprentices in trade training since records began in Australia in 1963. That’s transformational.

When we stared into this pandemic, one of the things the Treasurer and I were very keen to avoid was a lost generation of skills. And it so easily could have happened.

The very first wage subsidy we provided was to keep apprentices in their training and in those businesses. As I've moved across the country these last two years, I've met those apprentices. And most recently, I was out in Penrith. And I met one. They'd just finished their 4-year apprenticeship. That would never have happened.

Our $110 billion pipeline of infrastructure projects is supporting economic growth and resilience, especially in regional Australia.

More than 11 million Australian taxpayers are benefitting from income tax relief - as we promised - and the latest ATO data showing that younger Australians have benefited more than most. Under 25s have benefitted on average by more than $2,400 under our plan, that is a decline in their tax bill of almost 20 per cent. That’s what keeping more of what you earn looks like.

On average Australians are also now 47 months ahead on their mortgage repayments, compared to 30 months in September 2019, with an estimated $245 billion in additional savings on household balance sheets since the pandemic began. Australians have been very wise with their money during this pandemic, very wise. They’ve exercised good judgment and good discipline.

Over 300,000 Australians have been directly assisted into home ownership during the past three years through Government programmes like Homebuilder and the Home Guarantee Scheme. That’s what we promised at the last election. We said we would get people in homes. And we’ve assisted more than 300,000 of them.

And at a time when North Atlantic economies are experiencing energy shortages and price spikes, ACCC data shows electricity prices, the Minister for getting electricity prices down is over there, Angus Taylor, are now 8 per cent lower than 2 years ago - the lowest in eight years - saving households $128 a year.

So that’s what economic resilience looks like. And you must continue that.

In 2022 our focus is squarely on locking in our economic recovery to create jobs, jobs and more jobs.

We are passionate about getting Australians into jobs and we have the experience, we have the track record and the economic plans to back this up.

Jobs change lives. They change families. They change communities. They give Australians purpose and independence. They free them from the clutches of welfare and dependence. And they do the heavy lifting on transforming the budget also.

I believe we can now achieve an unemployment rate with a 3 in front of it this year. Our goal is to achieve this in the second half of 2022.

We have not seen this in Australia for almost half a century. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

What it means, unemployment with a 3 in front of it, is that as our economy changes there are jobs to go to, enabling families and local communities to plan for their future with confidence.

It means that when our kids leave school, or finish their apprenticeship or university they can focus on the job they aspire to rather than worrying about whether they can get a job. There is no more important vision than having a country where we enable our kids to realise their dreams about what they want for their life.

And this fits with our broader vision for Australia, the Liberals and Nationals together.

Where Australians can live the life they choose for themselves and make their own way. To run their businesses, to get that job, get the skills they need to achieve their goals. To own their own home, raise and educate their kids the way they want to do it, to be able to save for their retirement, not get into too much debt and take that occasional family holiday. To give back to their community wherever they can, as they want to and including taking care of their local environment. And to live in a country that is safe and secure.

These are what I describe as the great Australian aspirations - and they depend on a strong economy.

A strong economy means a stronger future, and this cannot be taken for granted.

As we approach this year’s election this means strong economic management is more important than ever.

Our national economic plan has enabled us to drive our economy, as I’ve demonstrated, through this pandemic.

The plan seeks to create jobs by securing our economic recovery from COVID and setting Australia up for the future.

The plan has five core elements. You’ve heard me talk about it before

Firstly, keeping taxes low and cutting red tape to drive investment and enable Australians to keep more of what they earn, as we promised.

Secondly, investing in the infrastructure and skills development and growing our workforce to meet the demands of a growing economy.

Thirdly, delivering the affordable, reliable energy that Australian businesses and especially regional economies need to power their futures ahead, while reducing our emissions to achieve net zero by 2050 and reducing household electricity bills.

Fourthly, making Australia a top ten data and digital economy by 2030.

And fifthly, securing our sovereign manufacturing capability, unlocking a new generation of high-wage, high-skill, high tech jobs.

Now this plan, I want to stress, has another overarching objective and that is about ensuring we grow together and not apart. In our cities and suburbs, as well as in our regions, towns and remote communities. We must grow together.

And that’s something I believe the Liberals and Nationals bring together in what is a unique Coalition and is so important for our country.

I have spoken before about many elements of this plan and will do so again as we make further announcements this year.

Today though I want to conclude by announcing how we are taking our modern manufacturing strategy to the next level, first instigated by Karen Andrews, who’s Minister for Home Affairs. And we’re doing it with greater investment in our world-class university research capabilities.

Our Modern Manufacturing Strategy has set out clear priorities to build new sources of growth and scale in six areas where Australia has significant comparative advantage, strategic interests and the capacity to harness new opportunities.

In medical products, food and beverage, recycling and clean energy, resources technology and critical minerals processing, defence industry and space.

To date we have committed over $312 million in funding to boost manufacturing capability and supply chain resilience, leveraging $677 million more in private sector investment.

We now need to better link and leverage our world class research sector to boost these efforts.

85 per cent of Australian research is rated, officially, at or above world standard.

Yet we continue to underperform, frustratingly, in achieving commercialisation outcomes.

We need to shift the focus from citations to commercial success.

We need to accelerate the forging of linkages between Australian industry and Australian university researchers.

And we need to develop a new breed of research entrepreneurs here in Australia so they can create the new products and new companies and most importantly, the new jobs.

The Government’s University Research Commercialisation Plan will align these research priorities with our Modern Manufacturing Strategy. We’re going to fuse them. It will focus research effort on the same six National Manufacturing Priorities.

In November, I announced the first element of this plan, once I am particularly excited about, the Trailblazer Universities programme.

This will see eligible universities undertake reforms, including to intellectual property arrangements, and provide clear promotional pathways for academic researchers engaging in commercialisation activities.

Now, the first step is underway, with 8 university proposals shortlisted to share in $243 million of investment, working closely with industry partners. And regions, they’re going to do great in these programs.

Funding of $30 million will see participating universities partnering with CSIRO to access specialist equipment, enabling researchers to prototype and test technologies at scale.

Today I am announcing the cornerstone of the Government’s new approach to turning great Australian ideas into commercial success – a $1.6 billion program called Australia’s Economic Accelerator.

In driving commercialisation, the key policy challenge surrounds the so-called ‘valley of death’ – where early-stage research is frequently not progressed to later stages of development because of the risk and uncertainty about commercial returns. When I was Treasurer, we changed the tax rules on this.

We know this is not insurmountable. Other countries have made a better fist of solving this problem and the Government’s expert panel made a point of looking at this evidence.

Australia’s Economic Accelerator is a stage-gated, competitive program designed to attract projects at proof of concept or proof of scale and their level of commercial readiness for both, but with high potential.

It will allow Australian innovators to access funding opportunities for each stage of their project provided they can continue to prove project viability and importantly, commercial potential.

Industry involvement and engagement is required and absolutely necessary at every stage, with the CSIRO’s Main Sequence Ventures engaged to catalyse venture capital investment in R&D in the final stage.

Another key part of our plan goes directly to people and culture.

Only 40 per cent of Australia’s researchers work in private industry – well below the OECD average. This together with low mobility between industry and the university sectors leads to culture and capability gaps that reduce the ability of Australian businesses to innovate.

Now to tackle this issue, the Government will invest in a new suite of industry PhD and research fellowship schemes to create Australia’s new generation of research entrepreneur.

We will invest in an additional 1,800 industry PhDs and more than 800 industry fellows over 10 years.

This $296 million investment aims to fundamentally reshape the workforce of Australia’s universities and career options, encouraging mobility and collaboration between university researchers and industry. It is time to get together.

Our $2.2 billion University Research Commercialisation package will focus the considerable research power, our smartest mind of our universities, on Australia’s national economic priorities.

And as we drive down unemployment, we’re also driving up the creation of new products and new companies in Australia.

Backing our best researchers and their ideas to ensure Australia’s economy roars back even stronger in the future, with leading edge manufacturing at its core.

We make stuff here. We make it really well. And we’re going to keep making it under this Government.

Now, in conclusion, there are times in all of our lives, and for nations, when things don’t come easy, when we persevere and struggle to push our way through.

We’ve known these days. I’ve known these days. And at those times you remember, you look back and say that's the time I became stronger. This is again one of those times. And it has been.

Despite the challenges we have faced, Australia, I believe, is stronger and more resilient today than when I stood before you a year ago.

Our COVID response has delivered one of the lowest death rates, highest vaccination rates and strongest economies in the world.

And we remain well prepared for the future.

Just like before, it won’t be perfect, but the experience we have gained, the investments we have made and above all the resilience that Australians themselves have shown mean that we can see our way forward.

But we cannot take this for granted. Now is not the time to turn back.

This year we must work to bring as much normality back to peoples’ lives as possible and at the same time as we continue to battle this constantly shape-shifting pandemic, we must continue to make the big calls necessary to keep our economy strong, keep Australians safe, and keep Australians growing together and not apart.

This requires experience, requires careful deliberation, requires fiscal responsibility, well-developed plans. Above all, the courage to take decisions that stand up for Australia’s interests, and not be intimidated, as we have demonstrated especially over these past three years.

It is not a time to have an each way bet on Australia’s future.

We must continue to build our strength and resilience - and not put everything you have worked all so hard for, and made great sacrifices for, at risk.

Because, in these times, that’s what truly matters.

Thank you for your very kind attention.