Topics: MYEFO; Commonwealth support; Inflation;

08:11AM AEST


Sarah Harris: Now, despite 13 million Australians being locked down at some point or another during the pandemic, Australia’s economy is in much better shape than expected.


Tristan MacManus: Yeah. Yesterday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg released the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. And while our economy has recovered well from the COVID recession, the question is – Is it sustainable if another variant hits? Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Adelaide. Mr Birmingham, pleasure to speak to you. There’s a lot of government spending that’s kept us afloat. We’re looking at a trillion dollars of debt by 2024. Is that manageable?


Simon Birmingham: It is manageable, Tristan. We’re one of only nine countries in the world to still have a AAA credit rating. Indeed, a couple of the international ratings agencies took us off of their negative watch list over the last year, and that probably seems a bit counterintuitive to many of the viewers. But the fact is, compared with so many other nations, we’ve got a strong economy. We do have relatively low debt levels and indeed our employment market is just booming, with 360,000 extra jobs coming online just in the last month, and we’re now 180,000 jobs ahead of where we were before COVID-19. And there aren’t many countries in the world that can actually say they have that successfully managed to achieve that level of economic recovery and got more jobs today than they had pre-COVID.


Sarah Harris: COVID-19 is still very clear and present danger, though, isn’t it? The forecast relies on no further lockdowns and borders staying open. Will the government have to spend that big again if things do go pear shaped again? I mean lockdowns, the possibility of them looming makes everyone panic.


Simon Birmingham: I understand there’s a bit of anxiety out there, especially with Omicron at present, Sarah. But we should have confidence that the real game changer compared with where we were earlier this year is vaccination, that we’ve got more than 90 per cent of Australians have had a double dose. Now, more than one million Australians have had their booster shot and we’ve had a record day yesterday in terms of the number of booster shots administered and I encourage everybody when you hit that five month mark to get out there, get the booster. We’re about to move into doing children aged five to 11 and our vaccination rates are higher than New Zealand, they’re higher than the United Kingdom, Norway, Finland or many other countries, which really does provide us with a barrier and a buffer of protection and should give us the confidence that we can keep our economy open, our businesses open, our borders open and allow people to continue to enjoy the benefits of this economic recovery that we have.


Tristan MacManus: Yeah, you’re right that congratulations on that as well. We’re also down to 4.6 per cent unemployment, which is extraordinary. What about wage growth, though? I mean, inflation will annihilate any wage growth. How are you addressing that?


Simon Birmingham: So, Tristan, if we look at what’s projected over the next few years, we do see a return to wages growth through the life of our government. We’ve managed to achieve real wages growth, the previous government hadn’t. But importantly, we recognise that people are doing it tough in different ways at present, and that’s why we brought forward tax cuts and around $1.5 billion a month extra is going into the pockets of Australian families and households each and every month, helping them with those cost of living pressures, and we’ve also, through our policies, managed to turn the corner on electricity prices and start to see decreases in electricity prices after years and years of increases. So we know there are other pressure points, particularly inflation in petrol prices at present. But that’s why we’ve done those things to make sure we help out where we can.


Tristan MacManus: Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time this morning. We appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks. Thanks, guys. My pleasure.


Tristan MacManus: Take care.