Topics: MYEFO, JobKeeper, Australia-China trade relationship, International borders/travel
Simon Birmingham: Later today the Treasurer and I will release the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. This is an important opportunity for us to provide an update in relation to the Budget and economic outlook, which itself was, of course, only handed down a couple of months ago. As everyone knows, we’ve seen continued strong recovery in the Australian economy. But, there is a way to go. We’ve seen particular recovery in terms of employment, with more than 650,000 jobs created over the last five months, and this remains the priority for our Government in helping Australians back into work. And we know that the disruptions to business have been real, and that restrictions continue to impact many Australian businesses. And that’s why the recovery will have a long way to go, but it is pleasing to date, and today’s figures will provide an update on how we’re seeing that outlook moving into the future.
Question: The JobKeeper figures are being reduced in MYEFO less than expected. Why do you think that’s the case, and what does that say about the economy?
Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen more than 650,000 jobs created over the last five months; that means more Australians back into jobs; fewer Australians needing to access JobKeeper or other support. And that’s incredibly welcome news, but we know that many people, many businesses are still doing it tough. And so, whilst we’re headed in the right direction, there is definitely a way to go in terms of getting anywhere back to the type of normality that Australia had pre-COVID.
Question: Just on China, Minister. Overnight, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China is saying that Australia taking this to the WTO needs to resolve any wrongdoings. I mean, are there any Australian wrongdoings here at all?
Simon Birmingham: No, look, Australia’s position hasn’t changed. Of course, we’ll always defend our values, our interests, our national security. But equally, we have been consistent in our desire for an economic partnership, an ongoing relationship with China. We value and respect China’s growth and we welcome it, what it’s done to lift communities out of poverty. We want to see that continue, and we’re genuine when we say that we are willing to sit down, to talk, to have dialogue, to work through issues, and that we wish China would come to the table and do likewise.
Question: How unhelpful is it having backbenchers on both sides freelancing on the issue of China?
Simon Birmingham: Australia is a robust democracy, and look, you see many things said and written in papers and across the media. But frankly, I can look at media outlets in China, including state-owned media outlets, that often say unpleasant things as well. Governments always need to be able to rise above that.
Question: On travel bubbles – New Zealand, obviously, we’ve got that one set up. Is there another travel bubble close to being finalised, whether it be with South Korea, Japan, any of the Pacific nations?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the reopening of international borders is one of the biggest challenges that lies ahead. It’s clearly related to the rollout and distribution of vaccines, the analysis in terms of health advice as to how safe the markets are, and we’ll work through all of those processes carefully. Australians shouldn’t get their hopes up that there’s going to be some quick and easy breakthrough, in terms of reopening our international borders. And we will continue to take a very careful approach there, given that has been a core part of our success in suppressing COVID in Australia, and therefore, allowing our economic recovery to grow. The truth is that the economic outcomes in Australia are linked to our successful management of COVID at a health level, and we’ve got to keep COVID suppressed to keep the economic recovery going strong.
Question: Minister, just quickly on iron ore; we’ve seen that the Government in new figures today are going to expect that it will decline steadily over time. What impact will this have on our economic figures now that, I guess, coal has been brought into this trade war as well? How do commodities work out?
Simon Birmingham: Our Government’s always taking a very careful and prudent approach to the way in which we manage commodity prices and budget for them. And indeed, in the Budget handed down just a couple of months ago, we projected that iron ore prices that were then running in excess of $100 would taper down to around $55. We’re going to continue to maintain that careful, prudent approach, that even though iron ore has over the last month averaged around $132, that we expect it will continue to go down, or at least we will budget in that careful, prudent way.