Topics: WA lockdown; income support; emissions reductions targets;
Peter Stefanovic: Joining is live is the Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for joining us this morning. I just want to start off in WA and this temporary five day shut down over in Perth and some surrounding areas. What is the cost of that shutdown?
Simon Birmingham: It will have a significant cost for many businesses across Perth. Now, it’s not something we can put precise figures on at present, in putting a budget together in the mid-year budget update as well. We had assumed they would still be some disruptions that came from COVID. So it’s not unexpected that that these types of disruptions will occur. We hope that this will be short lived and that it will all be over in a short and sharp way and of course, our thoughts going in particular to businesses in WA who are feeling that pressure right now.
Peter Stefanovic: Can you support that lockdown?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I recognise that everybody should act on the health advice that’s there before them, as the prime minister has acknowledged, these new variants of COVID that that have shown such lethality and such high levels of transmission in other parts of the world are a concern. And so it’s reasonable that the ultimate precautions taken while we learn more about how to best manage these new variants of COVID.
Peter Stefanovic: It seems these ad hoc lockdowns are going to be the way forward in pursuit of an elimination strategy. Do you accept that?
Simon Birmingham: Peter, I think if you look at the different ad hoc lockdown’s, our approach has always been a preference for them to be as localised and contained as possible and in what New South Wales achieved over the Christmas period. Difficult as it was for some people, but their success in again, suppressing a cluster that broke out through regional and targeted strategies, some of them city wide approaches. But in terms of lockdowns, keeping that to a regional level was again a testament to the success of effective contact tracing, isolating and very, very high rates of testing. And wherever possible, that should be the preference. But but, of course, Brisbane, Perth dealt with these new highly infectious strains. And we understand the ultra caution being taken to them.
Peter Stefanovic: But just a couple of items on JobKeeper and JobSeeker Minister this morning, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. First of all, when it comes to JobSeeker, wants to raise it by ten dollars a day. Is that being considered?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll make decisions about JobSeeker towards the end of March when the supplement that is there at present comes off. The JobSeeker alongside JobKeeper have been really important measures to get us through the depths of the pandemic. And let’s understand that way back when we were facing a really challenging circumstances, we had an effective unemployment rate in this country of 15 per cent. We’ve brought that back down now to pretty much in line with the overall unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent. We’ve actually got record levels of workforce participation in terms of the participation rate right now. So this is really encouraging the way in which the Australian economy has come back, the next steps in relation to support for any targeted industries or the way in which we manage JobSeeker going forward, we’ll take based on the data and evidence that we can see over these couple of months at the start of this year.
Peter Stefanovic: I know you’re probably not going to confirm this, but when it comes to JobKeeper as well, the ACCI says that for businesses that have lost a third of its profits moving forward, moving beyond March, that employees should get a supplement of $450 a week. Is that at least being considered? Is that is that in the game?
Simon Birmingham: We’ll consider the evidence that’s there and how best we target support? I think it’s it’s important, firstly, to recognise the vast extent to which Australia has come back. And that comeback has been enormous across our economy, with some 800,000 jobs being generated, more than 90 per cent of those who had lost their work back in work, and the vast majority and majority of those jobs being women back in the workforce, which is incredibly welcome. So that’s very positive looking forward. And there are going to be lasting changes as a result of COVID. Some businesses won’t find that their business models from before are as viable in the future as they might wish them to be. So they’ll have to make structural changes. They’ll have to change and adapt. And we don’t want to delay the period in which they might do so. Elements of corporate travel or international travel may not look in the future like they did in the past. So let’s be very mindful here that we don’t want to prop up activities where people may need to adjust their business model, may need to adjust their circumstances for the future.
Peter Stefanovic: Lastly, Minister, you heard Scott Morrison speak yesterday about net zero emissions, that he was hopeful or at least wanted to achieve that by 2050. That was his preference. That was his word, is that a shift in position?
Simon Birmingham: Well it is very much the ambition of our Government to see the type of technological changes achieved that enabled net zero by 2050 or earlier, if possible. And and we are investing through our technology roadmap in the changes that that are necessary there in terms of what takes us from great success to date in reducing emissions in Australia. We’ve reduced hours by some 17 per cent since 2005, and that compares with about one per cent for New Zealand or zero point four per cent for Canada. So Australia can stand proud in relation to our record of achievement to date looking to the future. We know that it’s got to move beyond a debate just about electricity generation and how we achieve emissions reduction across other sectors of the economy in manufacturing of steel and aluminium, in relation to agricultural management and land use practises, a whole range of different sectors. And that’s why we’ve outlined five different stretch targets around hydrogen production, around soil carbon, carbon capture and storage and indeed manufacturing activities. All of that is about enabling us to cooperate with the new Biden administration and partners as we are in Japan, Korea, Germany and elsewhere to achieve that technological change.
Peter Stefanovic: Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Thanks for your time.