“We now need to get one million Australians back to work – that is the curve we need to address,” Mr Morrison said after emerging from national cabinet.
“We have to get Australians back to work in a safe economy.
“I can assure you that the national cabinet and certainly the commonwealth government is under no illusion about the ongoing costs of these measures.
“And it certainly puts enormous pressure, as it should, on the timetable as we seek to move Australia back to that safe economy.”
The plan agreed at national cabinet on Tuesday aims to create a sustainable and safe economy by July under a three step framework that leaves it up to states and territories to decide the timetable to remove each restriction.
While school closures were not on the agenda on Tuesday, Mr Morrison highlighted the economic cost of keeping parents at home to look after children rather than returning to work.
Asked several times about the tightness of the restrictions on schools in Victoria, Mr Morrison made no criticism of Victorian premier Daniel Andrews but highlighted return to school in NSW and the similar “good calls” in other states.
National cabinet decided Safework Australia would be the “single source of information” for employers on safety rules but specific decisions were put off until another meeting on Friday.
Australia has had 6849 COVID-19 cases, leading to 96 deaths while 5889 people have recovered. More than 660,000 people have been tested in Australia.
The Treasury analysis found the biggest economic declines were in NSW and Victoria, which are losing 3.7 percentage points and 2.7 percentage points in economic activity respectively.
The slump in economic activity in the first half of this calendar year is expected to cost 490,300 jobs in NSW and 355,900 jobs in Victoria.
The impact is costing 290,200 jobs in Queensland, 224,500 jobs in Western Australia, 87,100 jobs in South Australia, 32,100 jobs in the Australian Capital Territory, 26,000 jobs in Tasmania and 21,400 jobs in the Northern Territory.
Mr Morrison hinted at easing rules for restaurants and cafes over time by pointing to the wider economic cost from their closures, such as the damage to food producers.
“There have been very good reasons for having them closed but the longer that goes on, it is not just the way the restaurant is affected, it is the food producer, the supply chain, and it goes into those sectors,” he said.
The economic impact of the pandemic, and measures aimed at stopping its spread, continue to weigh on the nation, with only 38,926 new car sales were sold in April.
This was a 48.5 per cent drop on the same month last year and the worst single monthly result since figures started being collated in 1991.
The Reserve Bank of Australia kept official interest rates at 0.25 per cent following its regular monthly meeting, but the bank expects unemployment to reach 10 per cent in coming months. By the end of next year, the RBA believes the jobless rate will still be above 7 per cent.
Bank governor Philip Lowe, who is expecting the economy to contract by 10 per cent through the first half of the year, said there could be a stronger recovery if the coronavirus is contained and social distancing restrictions are eased.
But he cautioned if restrictions were delayed, or reimposed to deal with a fresh outbreak, then the economy could suffer an even larger hit.
The government is open to supporting those parts of the economy that will struggle the most to emerge from the pandemic shutdown.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the National Press Club sectors such as tourism and hospitality are taking much larger hits than construction or manufacturing.
There may be scope to help those sectors that will take much longer to recover than others.
“We have to think about smoothing that transition for businesses going into that recovery phase,” he said.
Separate figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, based on the payroll data of most local businesses, suggest almost one million jobs have been lost since the middle of March.
Wage income over the same period has collapsed by 8.2 per cent. A third of jobs in accommodation and food services have disappeared while 27 per cent in arts and recreation have gone. Women have been disproportionately affected with female employee numbers down 8.1 per cent compared to 6.2 per cent for men.
The youngest members of the workforce are also copping a belting from current restrictions. Employee numbers for those aged up to 20 have collapsed by 18.5 per cent, while among 20 to 29-year-olds there has been an 11.8 per cent fall.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has urged the government not to reopen the economy without first strengthening workplace rules to slow transmissions, or risk a second wave of coronavirus infections.
“Now we’re going to make decisions to re-open parts of the economy with very few models, other than authoritarian states, on how to do so and we’ve got to do everything we can to not make the last six weeks in vain,” said ACTU secretary Sally McManus.
The unions want three changes: paid pandemic leave for all workers, a legal obligation on employers to protect their workers from coronavirus by using measures like social distancing, and a duty for companies to tell regulators about coronavirus cases among their staff.
Without clear rules on the exact steps businesses have to take to keep their workers safe, Ms McManus said you could “drive a truck through it” by arguing existing measures were sufficient.
And she said paid pandemic leave would encourage workers who would otherwise be afraid of losing income to get tested rather than potentially spreading the virus.
With Nick Bonyhady
David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.