Topic(s):  Australian bottom line improvement; Business support; Employment; Great Barrier Reef funding;

Ben Fordham: Now, a little bit of news on the economy, we’re starting to bounce back. Figures today show the brakes have come off. The government’s bottom line is improving beyond expectations. The budget bottom line has strengthened by 8.5 billion since restrictions started phasing out. Tax receipts are $3.4 billion higher than what was anticipated. And we’re being told an increase in activity before Christmas has played a part here. The Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham is on the line. Good morning to you, Minister.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Ben. Great to be with you.


Ben Fordham: It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because this is good news on the economic front, but it’s not what we’re hearing from business and workers.


Simon Birmingham: Well, it is a demonstration that when things are going well, as they certainly were prior to this current challenge of Omicron, we can really see the success flow through right across the country. So an unemployment rate of getting down towards four per cent has generated of course, so many extra jobs, taken so many people off of welfare. And in doing that, it’s delivered a budget bottom line benefit that is really significant and important to Australia because it enables us to sort of keep investing in infrastructure projects like Western Sydney Airport that I’m on the way to at present and sort of keep those jobs going for Australia.


Ben Fordham: In order for that to happen, you need business to be pumping and at the moment they are struggling. The New South Wales government is putting together a rescue package to be unveiled over the next few days, but the Commonwealth isn’t helping out. Why are you leaving us on our own?


Simon Birmingham: Well, then we made the decision through national cabinet last year that essentially we would fund individual support. So we’re continuing to do that. Millions of dollars coming into New South Wales in terms of pandemic leave disaster payments to support people, and that’s on top of the $63 billion in support that we’ve already provided to New South Wales. And we also have a number of other economy wide things that are working to help businesses, the loss carry back arrangements that we put into the budget previously. These are all about making sure that we’re supporting business, individuals and what was agreed is that states and territories would be able to step up and do targeted business specific, sector specific support where they’re better able to target it as they see the needs in their economy. So it’s welcome if that’s what they end up doing.


Ben Fordham: Every day we hear from business owners who say we cannot find staff, and we had some of them on yesterday, but we’ve got 200,000 people on welfare who are still on the payment since the start of coronavirus. We need to encourage some people to get out there and get a job, don’t we?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we do, and we are. We had the Social Services Minister Anne Ruston just the other, last week getting the different job active providers, the people who are meant to be working as a dating service if you like, ensuring that we have those who are still on welfare connected to the jobs that are available, and she hauled them into a room to talk about just how we can make sure that is better done for the residual population. But the fact that we’ve seen so many jobs more than 1.7 million jobs created since our government was elected we’ve got more than one million extra women in work now as a result. These are the dividends that are having strong economic growth and the tax cuts that continue to flow through our economy. Some $30 billion of tax cuts we’ve delivered, supporting $1.5 billion a month extra into the pockets of Australian households. And these are what’s fuelling the type of spending that will ensure that just as we’ve bounced back so strongly from Delta and lockdowns before, we will see a very strong bounce back, as is predicted by all the international forecasters from these current Omicron challenges, too.


Ben Fordham: We’re chatting to Simon Birmingham, the Federal Finance Minister. The big spend today involves the Great Barrier Reef, the PM announcing a $1 billion investment in the tourist destination. Look, we want to protect the reef because it’s beautiful, but also we want to see a return on that investment, will we as far as tourism dollars?


Simon Birmingham: Absolutely, Ben. So this is a $1 billion plan that builds upon the $2 billion that our government has already been investing in the protection and health of the Great Barrier Reef. The reef supports 64,000 jobs for Australians, so you can’t underestimate the importance of the Great Barrier Reef to tourism businesses, industries and jobs and lifestyles across Queensland in particular. And our focus here is on practical investments in areas such as soil quality that can really help to minimise the type of chemicals and runoff that comes from farming land and elsewhere into the reef catchment zones. It’s been shown to have practical benefits before. That’s where we’re going to build and invest alongside, of course, our efforts to achieve net zero and to drive global policies to support the reef, too.


Ben Fordham: We’ll hear that announcement today from the PM. Thanks for jumping on the line bright and early.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much, Ben. My pleasure.