Topics: Labour force data; Federal anti-corruption commission;


Michael Rowland: Let’s turn to federal politics now, and attention has shifted to the jobless rate, which has hit a six month high of 5.2 per cent. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Minister, good morning.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Michael.


Michael Rowland: Now, listen, it was a bad result for October, but economists are saying that the job market will pick up as we head towards Christmas into next year. But given the nature of this massive economic shock, Australia has suffered, particularly in the lockdown states of New South Wales and Victoria. Can we expect the labour market to stay fairly bumpy in the months ahead?


Simon Birmingham: Michael, I think there’s every reason for people to have optimism and confidence. This data, which was taken at the end of September start of October as a survey period, was obviously still while New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT were in lockdown. But New South Wales was taking the steps towards reopening and we can see in the data. Some 21,000 jobs were created in New South Wales, but jobs were lost in Victoria and offset that. However, it demonstrates that there’s a pain that comes with lockdown, but a real power that comes with reopening in the sense that now that we have opening across all states of Australia, we should see that rebound. And that’s evident in the consumer confidence data in the business confidence data that’s out at present. And of course, the budget policies that we put in place to encourage businesses to invest and announcements the prime minister is making today in terms of more than $30 million investment into food manufacturing. These are all demonstration of how we’re working to get the economy going as strongly as possible once more.


Michael Rowland: Underemployment is a very big issue as well. That’s people who want to work more hours, want to work more days. But sadly, those hours and days aren’t available. How is the government going to combat that particular issue?


Simon Birmingham: Again, Michael, when you drill into the data from yesterday, we saw that the participation rate went up, so more people wanted to come back into the workforce, which is a sign of confidence. We also saw that the number of people on zero hours came down, that in fact, the effective unemployment rate came down yesterday. So there are good positive signs there. Of course, it’s about pursuing all of the aspects of our economic recovery plan investment in our digital economy, strategy in our Agriculture 2030 strategy and the multi-billion dollar investment that we’re making into our manufacturing growth strategy and agenda as well. These are all key parts of our agenda to make sure that the record lows we’ve seen of unemployment in recent times and the resilience of the Australian economy through COVID continue and that we help everyone who’s looking for a job or for more hours through those investments.


Michael Rowland: Let’s hope they can get those hours and jobs. Hey, now, a Senate committee has been told that this commuter car park fund would amount to the way it was used would amount to corruption if there was an anti-corruption federal agency that were fairly strong words, weren’t they?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, look, I didn’t see the detail of those words. I know that the Audit Office looked at it and it was very clear that the minister didn’t approve any projects that that had been recommended against being funded. So in that regard, look, we’ve outlined and took to the election a number of different projects to fund across the country in building productive infrastructure to help Australians more easily access public transport. And what we’re doing is getting on and building those, of course, where there have been recommendations to improve the grants process we’re also getting on and implementing those.


Michael Rowland: They were the words of the former New South Wales Attorney General Tony Harris, he says. Under the New South Wales ICAC Act, using funds for electoral advantage, which the Australian National Office said the government did, would amount to corrupt conduct.


Simon Birmingham: Well, Michael, as I said, the Commonwealth Auditor-General had looked at this and ultimately, we’re working through implementation of recommendations around that. But at the same time, you know, the projects on the ground are making sure that Australians have easier access to public transport and we’re getting on delivering that infrastructure as we are a range of other infrastructure projects.


Michael Rowland: Can you honestly say, look, looking down the barrel at our viewers and say that car park fund was the model of good governance?


Simon Birmingham: Michael, there are clearly lessons to be learnt. That’s why we’re implementing recommendations that the auditor general handed down. But crucially, we’ll work through those lessons, but also make sure that we continue to deliver for Australians in infrastructure, be they at the localised level in terms of support for easier access to park and ride type facilities, albeit major infrastructure facilities like the Western Sydney Airport or the Inland Rail Project or the Melbourne Airport Rail Link that that all need to be delivered as part of boosting the productivity of our country.


Michael Rowland: Just quickly before you go. Speaking of the proposed, the long proposed Federal Anti-Corruption Agency, will we see one before the election?


Simon Birmingham: Legislation around that is being finalised. That’s been clear that the Attorney-General has been going through consultations for a couple of waves of draught legislation around that and she is now finalising that legislation.


Michael Rowland: Okay. Will we see one before the election in place, a body investigating corruption at the federal level?


Simon Birmingham: Well, that will be a matter for the parliament as to as to whether the support of passed legislation-


Michael Rowland: A few Liberal MPs-


Simon Birmingham:  She will be releasing that.


Michael Rowland: A few Liberal MP, so it’s not tough enough that they say they want the commission to be given the power to instigate its own enquiries under the draught legislation. It hasn’t. Will you consider that?


Simon Birmingham: The attorney general is considering all of those areas of feedback as part of the finalisation of legislation, that’s why it was put out as a draught so that people could provide comment and feedback. And I know that she has been listening carefully to that as she finalises it for public release.


Michael Rowland: Okay, we’ll see what transpires from there. Simon Birmingham, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Michael. My pleasure.