Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Virus a threat to sovereignty, PM declares

The coronavirus pandemic is a threat to Australia's sovereignty but governments will not surrender to it, the prime minister has vowed.

Scott Morrison channelled British wartime leader Winston Churchill in an address to federal parliament on Wednesday before it considered legal underpinning for the $130 billion wage subsidy scheme.

"Today we act to protect Australia's sovereignty," he said.

"When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation's sovereignty is put at risk, and we must respond."

That sovereignty was measured in the freedom to live as we chose, in Australia's free, open and democratic society, enabled through a vibrant market economy, he said.

"Above all, our sovereignty is sustained by what we believe as Australians, what we value and hold most dear, our principles, our way of life, a way of doing things," he said.

"We will never surrender this."

Politicians had agreed to check their ideologies at the door and join forces to defend and protect sovereignty.

"It will be a fight we will win. But it won't be a fight without cost, or without loss.

"So today, we will agree to pay that price, through the important measures we will legislate today.

"Once we have overcome these threats - and we will - we will rebuild, we will restore, whatever the battle ahead takes from us."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said politicians came to Canberra with open hearts and open minds.

"But we owe it to all Australians to keep our eyes open, too," he told parliament.

The unprecedented scale of the support package set Australia on a path for a trillion-dollar debt, he said.

"It is a bill that will saddle a generation."

Mr Morrison noted that when parliament last sat, just over a fortnight ago, the numbers of Australians newly infected with the virus was growing more than 20 per cent a day.

Now that daily increase averages two per cent.

Tough restrictions on people's movements and social distancing measures had bought the country precious time to prepare its health system, but that progress could easily be undone.