Topics: Unemployment figures; international travel; dancers at defence event;



Jim Wilson: The work is out there for people to grab the unemployment figure has fallen from five point eight per cent to five point six per cent, 70,000 jobs added in the last month. And a record thirteen million Australians are in a job right now. Would have thought this would be the case 12 months ago when there were serious fears about a repeat of the Great Depression. One person who’s celebrating these numbers is the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, and he joins me on the line this afternoon. Minister, welcome back to Drive.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Jim, great to be with you as always.


Jim Wilson: Well, these are great numbers. I mean, it’s a real sign the economy is returning to prepandemic levels.


Simon Birmingham: This is very, very encouraging and very welcome numbers, and we do now see record levels of employment in Australia and the employment numbers are up, participation in the workforce is up, the number of hours worked is up, and there are more Australians in work today than ever before and as you just said in the introduction, that is a far cry from what people expected 12 months ago. It’s indeed a far, far cry from the situation around many other parts of the world where we absolutely still see COVID raging out of control, economic conditions in a [indistinct] state in many places suffering from ongoing shutdowns and slowdowns and certainly not seeing the revival of their businesses and employment opportunities that we’re seeing hearing here in Australia.


Jim Wilson: Now, these numbers out today are the last employment numbers to include JobKeeper, which is now ended, of course. Are you confident next month’s figures will be just as good?


Simon Birmingham: Jim, we acknowledge, and I think we spoke about this a month ago, that there may be some bumps on the road still to come and that we shouldn’t think that this is all just absolutely plain sailing. There’s so much uncertainty. You can see that in areas of vaccine rollout and you can see that internationally in terms of the fact that although we’re travelling well, other parts who are our trading partners are having significant ups and downs and so that global uncertainty will impact on our economy as well. So we certainly shouldn’t expect that every single month there will just be another improvement and that it’s all linear. But I think you can see the government’s decision that the very expensive investment that was JobKeeper and successful and necessary, though it was, but it was the right time for it to come off, that this sort of strength in the labour market was what we were looking for as the transition point coming out of JobKeeper, because ultimately the economy can’t be run on taxpayers money, on government debt forever. And so we’ve I think, carefully made the transition and we will continue to carefully invest on getting unemployment down further over the months and years to come and more jobs created, because that’s what’s ultimately provided the strength and resilience in our economy coming into these crisis times.


Jim Wilson: Let’s talk about international travel. Qantas has today announced they don’t believe international travel will resume by October 31. They say the government hasn’t been able to provide a clear picture of when borders will open. Is that fair?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s accurate and indeed, we are not able to provide that clear picture of when international borders will reopen, putting in place the border controls that we did 12 months ago and has been the single most important decision to suppressing COVID across Australia and to putting us in a good position health wise and economically that we are in today. If we hadn’t have closed the international borders, COVID would have run rampant across the country, around the rest of the world they’re averaging something like 500,000 new cases a day during the course of this year. We’re barely recording any and certainly barely recording any when you exclude those who are our international arrivals. Every day we have a handful of new cases, but they’re all in the medi hotels. They’re part of that tight quarantine arrangement, and that’s protecting us. And unfortunately, we can’t firmly say what the conditions will be to lift those international border restrictions. Because even if we had the whole population vaccinated, there are still questions about the duration for which the vaccines last, about their effectiveness against different variants of COVID-19, the extent to which having the vaccine suppresses transmission in different populations. And so we want to get the vaccine job as fast as we can. We hope it provide as much protection as possible, and we trust that that will enable us to reopen those international borders. But there’s a lot of uncertainties, a lot of advice we will have to take on that journey. And as soon as we’re in a position to do so, we’ll let the rest of the country know. But we’re not going to jeopardise what’s been 12 months of success by rushing to a premature reopening.


Jim Wilson: Before I let you go, I have to ask you about these twerking dancers at the commissioning of this new naval ship at the weekend. What happened here? How on earth did anyone think it was a good idea for twerking to be at any military event?


Simon Birmingham: It certainly caused me to raise my eyebrow when I saw the news story about it, and I think defence will need to think long and hard about the type of entertainment and the type of conduct that they think is appropriate for these sorts of events. I think it’s important, you know, what can sometimes be a pile on from these types of news stories to make sure that the dancers themselves, these young women are clearly people who are pursuing their hobby, their life, their interest, and that we ought to respect them. And that has got absolutely nothing to do with them and what they are doing. And I’m sure they could twerk a damn sight better than you or I could Jim. But-.


Jim Wilson: No, doubts about that. You’re right, there’s a lot of skill and talent involved. Just not at a military event like that.


Simon Birmingham: That’s right. It’s the time and place that is that is the question there and the appropriateness for what is a serious commissioning of a major new piece of our defence infrastructure. And, you know, I think defence I’m sure will be hearing the message loud and clear of people’s comments about the appropriateness of this. And we will make sure that they do a better job in future and that there are far more appropriate occasions for the rest of society to enjoy the entertainment of dancing troops and the like.


Jim Wilson: Minister, always good to chat.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Jim, my pleasure.