Topics: Budget; Cost of living; Employment
Monique Wright: We’re joined now by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you, Minister. Thanks for being with us. Let’s start with your government being pretty much concerned once upon a time about getting back in the black, almost obsessed by it, some would say, so why have you spent so much money?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Mon. It’s good to be with you. Well, we’ve spent more than $300 billion in terms of COVID-19 related costs, economic support, health support to get the country through this now. We would wish never to have had to spend those sorts of sums, but they’ve been necessary and they’ve been incredibly effective. They’ve been effective at saving lives. We’ve got one of the lowest fatality rates in the developed world, and they’ve been effective at saving jobs and livelihoods because we’ve got one of the strongest economic outcomes in the developed world. Indeed, with many more 300,000 plus jobs shown to have been created just in the last month, and we’re in fact 180,000 jobs ahead of where we were pre-COVID, which is a pretty incredible outcome compared to most countries.
Monique Wright: Yeah. Okay. One red flag is the fact that wage growth is still expected to fall below inflation this year. So I’m thinking of all the workers that are already struggling with the cost of living. How concerned are you about that?
Simon Birmingham: Well Mon, that’s a slight of impact of the fact that last year we saw some quite extraordinary figures with negative inflation there for a period of time and strong wages growth. This year, inflation has caught up a little bit. Beyond this year we’re seeing clear wages growth, real wages growth forecast. Importantly, in the interim, what we’ve done is put more money into the pockets of Australian taxpayers one and a half billion dollars a month in income tax cuts that are flowing through into the pockets of Australian families each and every month.
Monique Wright: Okay, what do you say to people like Mark Latham and others? Actually, not just Mark Latham, who was saying that the logical alternative to bringing in foreign workers and while particularly hospitality industry is struggling to find workers, is to end the dole.
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’re not about to do that, having a safety net in Australia is important, but it’s a safety net where we make sure there’s accountability for that with Australians who we fully expect to have to get out there and look for work. And we’ve made sure that we’ve reimposed those sorts of requirements in terms of job seeking activity. We’ve got the training activities in place and we’ve now got record numbers of apprentices who’ve commenced and who are in training as a result of some of the incentives we’ve put in place to ensure we didn’t get crippling youth unemployment during COVID-19. In previous times, recessions have led to a real tail of youth unemployment. This time we’ve tackled that directly with really effective policies, especially getting many more people into apprenticeships.
Monique Wright: All right, Simon Birmingham. Thanks for being with us.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Mon. My pleasure.