Topics: Budget 2021
Michael Rowland: Michael McCormack on the show yesterday talking about this budget containing truckloads worth of cash. Well, I’m pleased to say I’m joined by one of the drivers of those trucks now, one of the key architects of the budget, the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you.
Michael Rowland: The Australia this morning is reporting this year’s budget deficit will be $161 billion dollars. Is that true
Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen a profound improvement in relation to this year’s budget bottom line, and that is as a result of the fact that the economy has been performing more strongly, particularly more Australians, back into jobs. And we know that by getting more people back into jobs, we reduce the welfare bill, we increase the taxation and the revenue coming in. And indeed, just by having 200,000 fewer people on JobSeeker at the start of this year than had been forecast, has delivered a five billion dollar turn around and you get other dividends that flow through across the economy. And that’s why at the heart of tonight’s budget, I focus very much is on how do we keep that jobs growth continuing, because that is how we make sure we can pay for the essential services Australians want us to invest in.
Michael Rowland: Will the deficit be $161 billion dollars? That strikes me as a very precise figure. You wouldn’t be leaking key figures like that to a newspaper would you?
Simon Birmingham: People will be able to see all of the forward projections around the budget bottom line-
Michael Rowland: Talking about $161 odd billion dollars?
Simon Birmingham: Definitely been a profound improvement in relation to the budget bottom line for this current financial year. And so people will be able to see the details of that tonight. But what’s driving it is most important, and that is the fact that our economy has bounced back more strongly and we have more Australians in work today than at any time in the nation’s history. Now, last year, this time last year, as we were dealing with the grips of the pandemic, many would have thought that a completely impossible objective to have. It certainly exceeded all projections or assumptions. And indeed, we’re in a position where elsewhere around the world, the eurozone appears to be slipping back into recession. Facing a double dip recession, the Australian economy is managing to withstand those uncertainties.
Michael Rowland: Okay, let’s talk jobs and jobs are hanging in the balance in the tourism industry on the show as well. Yesterday, we had Margy Osmond, the head of the Transport and Tourism Forum. As you know, she was venting, talking about the industry being in big trouble. If the government does not tonight set out clear timelines on both the vaccination schedule and the reopening of the borders. I want to start with the last part. You’ve talked about the border reopening deep into 2022. What does that mean? Are we talking June, July, August the latter part of 2022? When will it reopen?
Simon Birmingham: The honest answer there, Michael, is we don’t know and we can’t know because ultimately we have to be informed by the health advice around how the vaccine rollout will actually protect Australians. Being vaccinated will help you or me not get sick. And so that’s really important from an individual level. But it doesn’t necessarily stop us from giving COVID to somebody else in the community-
Michael Rowland: You understand the uncertainty being felt by key sectors of the economy like tourism.
Simon Birmingham: I can definitely understand that. And that’s why, again, tonight’s budget will be one in which we reinvest in terms of continuing to drive economic growth. This is a budget where yes, we will look to the long term services Australians expect in aged care and disability services and the like. But it’s also a budget where we are still handling the pandemic, responding to the pandemic, and in that investing in the continued economic growth by encouraging investment funding for skills and training that can help to really drive jobs growth of the future.
Michael Rowland: Let’s talk about the other assumption we’ll all be looking for tonight. That’s the vaccination rollout. We know the early deadline of the end of this year won’t be met. So we’re talking about something into 2022 as well before all Australians are fully vaccinated.
Simon Birmingham: So we are still driving to make sure that vaccine rollout happens as fast as-
Michael Rowland: But we know it won’t be this year. The Prime Minister says he can’t give a guarantee, won’t be the end of this year. So it means next year-
Simon Birmingham: There are many uncertainties. I spoke before about the uncertainty around transmissions that come from even people who have been vaccinated. There, of course, are uncertainties around the supply of vaccines, as we’ve seen with those international disruptions around Australians confidence. And the message certainly we want Australians to hear is that they should follow the health advice. They should absolutely go out and get vaccinated when it’s their turn to do so. And we’ll continue to drive that message through the year. But it does face uncertainties and we’ve been honest in acknowledging those.
Michael Rowland: Now we know there are going to be truckloads of cash thrown around tonight. It looks and smells like a pre-election budget. On the other hand, the Prime Minister has said a couple of times now he’s a so-called full term Prime Minister, which means the election won’t be until next year. So on that basis, do you expect him to honour his pledge to the Australian people and not hold the election until next year?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Prime Minister will choose when the election will be. This budget is delivering on the promises we made at the last election. And we went to that last election saying that we would invest in the economy to grow jobs and to fund the essential services that Australians rely on. And so that’s why in this budget, we’ve got the focus on growing jobs. Yes, we didn’t see at the last election there’d be a pandemic and a recession that was induced by that pandemic. But the investment in skills, the investment in investment attraction incentives to keep the economy growing and jobs growing, the investment then $17 billion, additional support into the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We promised we would fully fund it, we are –
Michael Rowland: Just on the National Disability Insurance Scheme the ABC reported last night that funding for that is expected to rival Medicare within three years of 30 billion dollars. Is it- do we have enough sustainable funding model for the NDIS?
Simon Birmingham: So we absolutely have a very growing programme in the NDIS. We’ve got record numbers of participants there, more than was ever forecast to be the case. And that’s why as a government we are honouring our commitment to fully fund it, managing the programme for those record participants. But of course, we will manage it as carefully as possible to make sure it’s sustainable for the future, too.
Michael Rowland: Simon Birmingham, we got a big day ahead. Thank you so much for making time for us this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Michael. My pleasure.