Interview on ABC News, News Breakfast with Madeleine Morris
Madeleine Morris: Let's go to federal politics, and yesterday's mid-year budget update had some good news about the economy with a $16 billion improvement on the bottom line. But trade tensions with China are still looming large. Finance and Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now from Adelaide. Good morning to you, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, good to be with you.
Madeleine Morris: Can I just ask you first about this Northern Beaches outbreak? Gladys Berejiklian has this morning urged- warned people to expect more cases. We're seeing already certain border closures. What do you expect? And yesterday you were quite keen on borders staying open? Is that still your position?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we would urge other states and territories to exercise some restraint in relation to border closures at this stage. Let's actually recognise that New South Wales has shown an exemplary, a world leading capacity and capability to get on top of these types clusters right throughout 2020. Their systems, their processes that lead to the tracing, the contact tracing, the isolating, really are quite exceptional, and so, we should have confidence they can do it again as they’ve done before.
You know, I'm standing here in my home state of South Australia, and it's not that long since we similarly saw one case that turned to 16 or 17 – ultimately, it was a cluster of 30. But, a really strong process of isolating, contact tracing, all of the work that's necessary there, enabled everyone to get on top of it, and I'm sure that's what New South Wales Health are doing right now. And of course, anybody in New South Wales should be following the advice of those health officials very, very closely.
Madeleine Morris: Yesterday's mid-year financial update was really predicated on borders staying open. How much of a potential to derail that recovery does this outbreak have?
Simon Birmingham: Well as always, it depends on how an outbreak like this unfolds. But, the budget assumptions do still assume there will be occasional instances like this. We haven't assumed that COVID is simply gone from the face of Australia forever. We do recognise these threats, these uncertainties remain, and that's built into the assumptions there.
But, the budget update saw the economy growing stronger than had previously been forecast, employment and jobs growth growing stronger than had previously been forecast. And that means we've got more Australians in work, fewer people needing to receive payments, more taxes coming in – this is of course all strong signs of recovery and what we want to do is make sure we keep that going as strongly as possible.
Madeleine Morris: Just on to those payments though, you didn't provide any further detail on changes to JobSeeker beyond March. What's the delay?
Simon Birmingham: Well, what we did in this update was reflect the fact that we extended the additional JobSeeker supplement, at a tapered and slightly lower rate, out till the end of March. That in itself came to more than a $3 billion cost to the budget. So, although the bottom line improved, the costs in relation to JobSeeker were an additional $3 billion-plus in terms of taxpayer support and spending to provide that additional support into the economy.
Now, we'll continue to monitor all the circumstances as we get closer to the end of March, and to work out any next steps in relation to all the different aspects of our support programs – which to date, have seen around 740,000 Australians come back to work in new jobs created over the last six months. We've got 85 per cent of the 1.3 million Australians who either lost their jobs or went to zero hours at the height of the pandemic, are now back in work. So, all of the measures that we put in place are tracking in the direction, and indeed ahead of the forecast, of what was had been put, put there before.
Madeleine Morris: Alright. Senator Birmingham, we've got the New South Wales Premier standing by, but just really one quick question on that. It sounds like you’re waiting to found out what the prospects of the economy are going to be before you announce changes to JobSeeker. Shouldn't it just be a matter of principle – the changes to that final number?
Simon Birmingham: This is, this is something where there are, as I said, enormous budgetary implications in terms of decisions that are made. We’ve provided additional support through the pandemic, that has helped to provide greater security to Australian people – that's been important during these very, very trying times. But, jobs are coming back; they're coming back strongly, more strongly than forecast and that's why we want to keep that focus on our JobMaker plans and how we get those Australians into jobs.
Madeleine Morris: Okay. Senator Birmingham, thanks very much.