Topic(s): Budget position improvement;


Natalie Barr: Well, while the Commonwealth faces extra costs across health care, business and income support due to the pandemic, new figures show the budget position has strengthened by more than $8 billion this financial year. For more, I’m joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Morning to you. So these figures are from December and they’re great. But then Omicron smashed everybody. What difference is that going to make?


Simon Birmingham: These figures do show that with unemployment down to 4.2 per cent with 1.7 million more Australians in jobs than when we were first elected, you get a dividend from that, of course, of fewer welfare payments and more tax payers contributing more and that really does improve the budget bottom line. And that’s great news. Now, of course, Omicron is challenging a number of businesses with staff shortages right now, and we know that those challenges are real for many instances. But we also know that the International Monetary Fund has reconfirmed Australia’s growth forecasts for 2022 whilst downgrading a number of other countries. They’ve seen the resilience and the strength in the Australian economy, and we should have huge confidence there. Just as we saw yesterday, Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed the AAA credit rating for Australia. All of it demonstration that our economy internationally is recognised as one of the strongest in terms of surviving and performing through the different challenges that every nation is facing around COVID.


Natalie Barr: Yeah, because it felt like Omicron really came out of the blue, and I think the Prime Minister even said that we didn’t expect it to spread so fast. So what’s your projection on the impact over Christmas of the Omicron virus spreading through the community on the finance figures?


Simon Birmingham: Look, Omicron has hit pretty much every country around the world and hit them hard in terms of the huge surge in case numbers, but it’s also come with far lesser severity in terms of hospitalisations as a rate of those cases. And so although there are pressures on those working in our hospitals and health system at present, it is a case that we have now a less severe version of COVID-19, which means we can work towards managing this, this outbreak and COVID in a more normalised way moving forward. As a country, we have some of the best job outcomes, best economic outcomes, best vaccination rates in the world and some of the lowest fatality rates. And so all of that together means that we should have confidence that although there will be some impacts in terms of a slowdown in spending through those last parts of December and early parts of January, we’re already seeing a recovery in terms of that spending. That should give everybody the confidence that as Australia’s snapped back very quickly before from lockdowns and shutdowns, this resilience and the infrastructure projects like those behind me, the Western Sydney Airport, that we are building is charging ahead now. They’re providing the type of stimulus in our economy that is helping to drive unemployment so low.


Natalie Barr: Okay. Thank you, Simon Birmingham for your time this morning.