Topics: National accounts; Greg Hunt; Christian Porter



Scott Emerson: The Australian economy contracted during the September quarter as a result, of course, of the COVID lockdowns in the nation’s two biggest cities, just as Australia learns to cope with this new variant of the virus, Omicron. New data from the Bureau of Statistics today has highlighted the damage from Delta. The latest national accounts show the economy shrunk 1.9 per cent during the three months to September as a result of lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. Hospitality, recreation and transport services were the hardest hit, but the country’s finances were propped up by strong iron ore, coal and gas prices. Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Finance and leader of the government in the Senate, and he joins me on the line now. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive.


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


Scott Emerson: Now was the government expecting GDP to fall by this figure? There were reports it could even be further than that.


Simon Birmingham: Well, that’s true, Scott. Indeed, this figure was improvement on what the market expectations were and the predictions of many. Now it’s obviously always disappointing to see the economy contract, but this is entirely expected. When we had Metropolitan Sydney in lockdown for essentially the entire quarter, metropolitan Melbourne in lockdown for around two thirds of the quarter. The rest of the country grew quite strongly outside of those states in lockdown, and so it’s a reminder of the economic pain that comes from lockdown. Overall, the nation has grown by 3.9 per cent in terms of the size of our economy throughout the year to this point. And crucially, we’ve seen really strong recovery in jobs more than 350,000 jobs coming back since those lockdowns ended in those cities, which shows that, yes, there was a setback there as households couldn’t get out and spend what they ordinarily would. But the economic supports we put in place have enabled a very, very strong bounce back.


Scott Emerson: Alright then. So this is looking back. These are the three months to September given the ending of the lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria. What do you expect the next set of books to show? Do you expect to be a strong figure there?


Simon Birmingham: We would expect to see a strong growth and recovery for the next quarter. That’s consistent with the lived experience that we have had as a country to date. Indeed, our economy, if you look across all of the developed economies of the world, is one of the top three performances in terms of rebounding from COVID-19. We have done better than Germany or indeed many, many other countries that have suffered more significantly during COVID-19. And it’s a testament to the hard work of so many and of course, to the success of the economic supports and policies put in place. But again, you would expect to see sales and household spending and activity lift. And in fact, we saw retail trade up 4.9 per cent in October. And retailers reporting very strong activity around the Black Friday sales last weekend and the like. So it demonstrates that indeed, once you reopen, things come back strongly and crucially is a signal for the future. Business investment is up more than nine per cent, which was really where our economic recovery plan in the budget focussed activity to make sure that we got Australian businesses investing, which gives short term growth, but also makes them more productive and competitive for the future.


Scott Emerson: Now I’m talking to Simon Birmingham, the federal minister for finance and leader of the government in the Senate. Minister, I did see the reports that that your minister, your colleague Greg Hunt, the health minister, is set to announce his retirement from politics. Can you confirm that he will be quitting at the next election?


Simon Birmingham: No, I can’t confirm that one. I’m afraid, Scott. Look, I haven’t seen any statement from Greg. He’s an exceptional minister, has been a great colleague to me throughout my time in Parliament. I was fortunate enough when he was the environment minister to be his junior minister in that portfolio and it’s been an honour to certainly be serving around the cabinet table with him through these times as health minister and finance minister respectively. But for all that, I’m aware he’s still ploughing on. Working very hard on the response to this latest strain and making sure we continue to be as well placed as we can as a country with the vaccine rollout.


Scott Emerson: And Minister, I am seeing now just the reports coming through. I’ve just been handed the statement from Christian Porter as well. He’s just confirmed on Facebook that he will not be recontesting the next election. So your former ministerial colleague has announced officially that he will be quitting at the next election. Your reaction to that?


Simon Birmingham: I am aware of Christian’s statement there. It has obviously been a very traumatic year in terms of some of the issues that have been raised, some of the allegations that have been aired. I don’t think anybody would be particularly surprised that he may have come to this conclusion. And obviously, I wish him well for the future as I wish everybody who has been involved in those traumatic incidents during the course of the year.


Scott Emerson: You say no one should be surprised by this? Do you think it would have been possible for Christian Porter to continue in parliament after the election?


Simon Birmingham: Look, I am sure it would have been. I know he’s very hard working in his electorate and his community. He has an outstanding mind and particularly outstanding legal capacity in mind. But clearly he has decided that a different pathway is best for him. And as I said, I wish him well. But I also extend best wishes to all of those involved in the different issues raised this year.


Scott Emerson: Alright, Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us on 4BC Drive.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Scott. My pleasure.




Authorised by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, South Australia.