David Koch: A good number of Australians took time off in January because of COVID. That’s according to the Bureau of Statistics. More than 450,000 workers were sick or isolated for at least a week. But despite the disruption, the official unemployment rate remained steady at a 13 year low of 4.2 per cent. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Minister still pretty good unemployment results, weren’t they?
Simon Birmingham: Pretty remarkable, really Kochie, when you think about the devastation COVID-19 has caused to economies right around the world, but in Australia, the policy settings have got the unemployment rate at a 13 year low. The youth unemployment rate at a 14 year low and women’s workforce participation at an all-time high. So these are really encouraging numbers. Yes, of course, hours worked were down due to the Omicron shock, but the fact that more people have been getting more jobs means we can expect things to rebound very quickly as we get the lifting of restrictions, the opening of international borders and get back to normal.
David Koch: Yeah. Plans for skilled migrant workers to be coming in and also unskilled the backpackers. How quickly will that ramp up and be fed into these figures?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve already got the borders open to those skilled migrant workers in backpackers now, and indeed we put out an incentive call a few weeks ago to say if they come now, if they come quickly, then we will refund the visa and application fees that they’ve paid. And that’s because we know that international backpackers coming into Australia might do some jobs while they’re here, but they also spend everything they earn while they’re here, they actually create more jobs as well as fill vacancies in critical industries and sectors. So this is all about making sure we get more jobs back, maintain that growth and get that 4.2 per cent figure, potentially even down to a number, starting with three, as the Reserve Bank has said, is possible.
David Koch: Okay. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time.