Topics: Labour force data; JobKeeper; Net zero emissions;




Laura Jayes:  Well, Australia’s unemployment rate remains close to twelve and a half year lows. That’s despite extended lockdowns in Victoria and New South Wales. These figures look good on the surface, but it could be masking other issues in our economy. Joining me live now is the Minister for Finance, Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time, minister once again. First of all, when you look at these figures yesterday, you see most of the jobs lost in Victoria, but the unemployment rate is still higher in Queensland, which has not been in lockdown. What does that tell you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Laura, there’s a range of different factors in in terms of the statistics. Some of the strongest jobs growth we saw across the country was in fact in Queensland, and the non lockdown states did show quite a strong level of jobs growth overall. So that should actually give people confidence that as New South Wales comes out of lockdown and Victoria and the ACT do as well, that we will see strong recoveries once again there. That’s certainly what many of the economic analysts expect and certainly what Fitch, the international ratings agency who yesterday reaffirmed Australia’s AAA credit rating equally expect in terms of a very strong rebound in the Australian economy. That means strong jobs growth right across the country, and we’ve already lived that experience once, which should also be a factor giving Australians very high confidence moving forward.


Laura Jayes: We can see the economic shock, that shock that COVID has, how it’s reverberated right around the world. We’re not out of the woods yet, and certainly sometimes I mean, history tells us that recession can be, you know, years after a shock like this. How do you avoid that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we actually have looked at the lessons of history throughout the course of this crisis. One of the things we looked at most early on was the trailing impact of unemployment that if you have especially young people who face prolonged periods of unemployment during a recession or an economic downturn that often has an ongoing effect for many years as they continue to struggle to get a foothold in the jobs market and pursue employment opportunities. That’s why programs like JobKeeper at the initial nationwide emergency stage of the response, as well as the other individual economic supports have been so important. Critically, it’s why things like our apprenticeship incentives that have driven record levels of apprenticeship commencements during the course of the pandemic have kept youth unemployment in check, provided those opportunities to so many young Australians and ensure that the scarring effects as economists would say, across the labour market from a recession and an economic downturn are not likely to be as pronounced as they would otherwise be. So the measures we’ve used through this course have worked, are working and we have confidence will continue to work in terms of avoiding some of those longer term impacts.


Laura Jayes: It’s the young people that are going to be paying back this debt for potentially decades to come as well. I know the government’s talked about growth, which will essentially help us pay down that debt, but it’s still not sitting that well with particularly young people that you’re not pulling back this these JobKeeper payments that were used by profitable companies that now it’s clear didn’t need it, but you still clawed back hundreds of dollars for people who wrongly claim the individual payments. Is it time to just maybe just draw a line in the sand and move on from that?


Simon Birmingham: Well Laura, a couple of points from that. We always claw back funds where people have wrongly illegitimately claimed them against the guidelines and the rules, and we’re doing that in relation to many businesses who falsely claimed JobKeeper against guidelines or rules, as well as in relation to any individuals have done so. That’s a point of consistency. But it’s about simply applying the rules and conditions that were in place at the time and doing so thoroughly and for the integrity of those sorts of programs.

But the previous answer I gave you about youth unemployment in particular in many ways, the biggest beneficiaries of the spending and the programs like JobKeeper have been young Australians by virtue of the fact that it has avoided high levels of unemployment, avoided a prolonged recession, avoided the types of consequences that in previous recessions have most significantly impacted young Australians. Now, in terms of dealing with the budget position and the debt that we’ve incurred. Well, the strongest basis for economic growth is to make sure we have the highest possible levels of employment going forward and the most competitive business environment. This year’s budget, we extended the full expensing measures that have seen a huge lift by Australian businesses investing in plant, machinery, manufacturing equipment. These are the sorts of things that aren’t just providing a short term stimulus to our economy, but their Australian businesses investing in things that will make them more competitive, make the jobs of their employees more secure and create further job opportunities in the years to come.


Laura Jayes: Just on our economic stability and growth in the years to come. How important is moving with the rest of the world committing to net zero emissions on the economy side?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s quite important, and it’s especially important that we recognise those global trends that are happening and will continue to happen towards net zero emissions, not just in Australia but right around the world, and particularly in relation to our major investment partners and our major trading partners. So we can see that the trends in global investment are putting an increasing value and premium on low emissions pathways. And that means that a country like Australia, which has historically relied on securing significant foreign investment to enable our nation, which is only about the 53rd most populous nation in the world, to be the 13th largest economy. And that’s what gives us such a high standard of living compared to so many other nations. And we need to make sure we can continue to attract that foreign investment. Equally, communities who rely on often exporting products that are emissions intensive in their use overseas may well see those countries, those consumers of those products start to shift away as those countries seek to deliver upon their own net zero commitments. So making sure we create new opportunities in new areas of the economy, such as hydrogen power and drive forward other areas of our economic plans in manufacturing in our Agriculture 2030 strategy. These are all essential aspects for us to help ensure that Australia transitions and transition successfully in supporting regional communities and regional jobs.


Laura Jayes: So it sounds like Cabinet has agreed on a target, but you’re just sorting out some offsets for the Nationals. Is that right?


Simon Birmingham: Cabinet still working through all of its processes and indeed the National Party and the Liberal Party will be engaging, quite rightly, with all of our members of Parliament over the course of the next week, as we seek to ensure that we can take the strongest possible position to Glasgow and to the climate change discussions, but also give the strongest possible reassurance to Australians who are worried about their jobs, their communities, that we understand those concerns and that we have the proper plans in place to help them deal with these global transitions that in many ways will be happening with or without Australia’s decisions at Glasgow or commitments in Glasgow. We have to make sure that we get on board in ways that deliver transitions for those communities and of course, help the world tackle the real climate change problems that we face.


Laura Jayes: The Queen is not happy. She’s just been heard saying it’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do. Do you think she might be talking about Scott Morrison or Australia there?


Simon Birmingham: I have no idea of the context of Her Majesty’s comments and I wouldn’t seek to try to verbal her in any way.


Laura Jayes: No, we wouldn’t do that. Not to the Queen, at least now. Just before I let you go, let’s talk about the RBA. They’ve essentially said the cost of inaction will be huge. I mean, when Labor suggested this net zero target at the last election, your side of politics said it would be economy killing. So what has fundamentally changed in that last two or three years?


Simon Birmingham: We are seeing some rapid changes around the world, rapid changes in terms of the investment market and environments, but also rapid changes in terms of other countries who have and are moving towards net zero commitments, including countries who are some of our major trading partners like Japan and South Korea, for example, who have relied upon Australia for energy supplies and resources and being a reliable, valued supplier of energy and resources into those markets for decades. And the encouraging thing is that in all of our dialogue and discussion with those countries, they still want us to be a supplier of their energy and resources in the decades to come, which is why they’re so eager to partner with us in those areas of the new economy, such as hydrogen fuels into the future and why we are looking increasingly at the investment opportunities from those sorts of countries to partner with Australians and to grow those potential opportunities.


Laura Jayes: So we’re going to have a deal. You think you can get this over the line with the Nationals then, early next week?


Simon Birmingham: We will treat both our coalition partners in the National Party, but also the members of the Liberal Party room with respect in working through all of the evidence, all of the plans that the cabinet and government have been working through. And it’s essential that we do that-


Laura Jayes: Your can’t go to Glasgow with nothing. That’s right?


Simon Birmingham: We are confident that we will take strong, strong commitments and strong plans to Glasgow. Strong commitments and strong plans.


Laura Jayes: Okay. Noted Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks Laura, my pleasure.