Topics: Labour force data.


Jim Wilson:  Let’s turn our attention to the economy where things continue to rebound from the pandemic. Today’s unemployment figures are very positive. The rate has fallen point one per cent to 5.5 per cent for April. Now, this will be very welcome news for the government as this is the first set of job figures since the end of JobKeeper, which many warned would lead to an employment bloodbath. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham is on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Jim. It’s great to be with you again.


Jim Wilson:  Minister. These signs are very positive. You must be absolutely thrilled.


Simon Birmingham: Look, these are really encouraging figures. Once again, we’re seeing the Australian economy exceed expectations and forecasts and seeing employment numbers exceed those expectations. If you think back 12 months ago as the country slid into its first recession in 30 years caused by the COVID pandemic, nobody would have thought we’d be in this sort of position in 12 months’ time, particularly not when you look around the rest of the world and you see still the human devastation happening in places like India, the economic devastation continuing in parts of Europe. You’ve got real problems elsewhere around the world. And for Australia, we’ve got our unemployment rate back down to 5.5 per cent and strong trajectory for further jobs growth over the next couple of years


Jim Wilson: When do you expect the unemployment rate to dip below the all important five per cent growth?


Simon Birmingham: Well, look, we are taking a cautious approach there. We’re hoping to see that achieved at some point later into next year. But look, let’s just see how strongly we can maintain this sort of momentum. As you said in your intro, this is the first set of statistics since JobKeeper came to an end. Now, the Labor Party and many others were predicting absolute devastation when that occurred. But what we’ve seen here is that it was the right call to end that sort of sweeping economy wide support. It was really important at the height of the pandemic. But now what we’re focussed on is sustainable economic growth for the future. And that’s why the budget handed down only last week really looks at how we continue to encourage Australian businesses to invest in ways that create jobs now, but set them up to be much more competitive into the future, because that’s the key part of our long term jobs plan.,


Jim Wilson: The numbers are very good, but by no stretch out of the woods yet. I mean, until our international borders reopen, the travel and tourism sectors, for example, are continuing to hurt. Qantas today has announced it’s offering hundreds of employees voluntary redundancies. There’s been a wage freeze for two years, forecast for one point five dollars billion loss. What was your reaction to the news from Qantas?


Simon Birmingham: We will expect to see some businesses continue to make adjustments, adjustments to the fact that even when we get to a point where perhaps borders are reopening, there are going to be some ongoing structural changes as a result of the pandemic we’ve just lived through. That for many companies and other operations they’ve worked out how to do more things remotely to use technology to pursue their businesses. And that’s why it’s important that the type of investments we’re encouraging across the economy now in the digital economy, in the bio medicines and technology spaces, they’re all about supporting growing sectors for future jobs. And we’ve really focussed in on our budget plan around that. Now, of course, we want to make sure that we have a strong and viable airline sector and particularly a national carrier that is strong and viable for the future. And it’s why we’ve taken quite extraordinary measures to support and invest in assisting our airline and particularly Qantas, to stay afloat and to be strong coming through this. And, of course, they need to take their own decisions to underpin that strength. But these stats show a further 34,000 full time jobs coming through. They show the youth unemployment rate at its lowest level since 2009, and they show that the underemployment rate, so the number of those who are out there seeking additional hours has also come down in this month. And that’s the lowest rate recorded in over seven years. So real strength right across the board.


Jim Wilson: Very positive signs. And we appreciate your time, as always, on Drive. Thanks very much. Minister.


Simon Birmingham:  Thanks so much. My pleasure.


Jim Wilson: That’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.