Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Sunday, 19 April 2020
WA is well positioned to bounce back strongly from this Coronavirus induced crisis.
Our State is an entrepreneurial, innovative State, which is experienced in riding the highs and lows of economic cycles. As a commodity based trading economy, we are perhaps better prepared than any other state to deal with the challenges thrown at us by this crisis.
Our recovery will benefit significantly from the solid foundations of both our resources and agricultural sectors, which in large parts have continued to perform relatively strongly throughout this crisis.
As a result of this health crisis, we are dealing with the worst economic challenge in living memory – perhaps ever. We have been and will continue to be tested to our limits for some time yet.
Overwhelmingly though, businesses and people in WA know what it takes to survive during a downturn, to adapt and then to ride an exciting recovery on the other side. West Australians are hard working. We consistently have the highest workforce participation rate of any State.
As a government, necessarily, our first priority has been to save lives by slowing the spread of the virus, to protect jobs by helping to keep as many businesses in business during this period as possible and to provide a stronger safety net for those who lose their job.
But we are also totally focused on our economic plan to maximise the strength of the recovery on the other side.
Our post-COVID19 business growth strategy will prioritise lower taxes and a very serious deregulation effort, to help reduce the cost of doing business and encourage businesses across the board to start investing, growing and hiring again.
We will also continue to roll out our ambitious infrastructure investment program designed to boost growth.
Our manufacturing base has proven highly responsive to product development needs during this crisis to support our personal protective equipment requirements, for example.
We are exploring ways to boost our competitiveness in manufacturing and to assess where we need to have sovereign self-sufficiency.
There will be lasting changes in the economy and how we work caused by this coronavirus induced crisis. This will include lasting positive changes, helping many to reduce time spent in traffic and away from our families.
Many parts of the economy, indeed many workplaces will forever operate differently than before.
Significant product innovation, market diversification strategies and the accelerated uptake of digital transformation opportunities pursued by many businesses in an effort to survive the crisis now, will be the foundation stone of our strong economic resurgence on the other side.
Businesses have innovated by staggering work hours or invested in up-skilling their workers during this time which will support significant productivity gains.
Beyond that, the feedback from a lot of businesses, in particular larger businesses across WA, is that they have been positively surprised by how well the working-from-home arrangements have actually worked for them.
Increased levels of working from home on a more systemic basis will no doubt stay with us.
Another lasting change will be that more business meetings which may have involved interstate travel in the past will be conducted by Zoom or Teams or applications like that.
Our resources sector is responsible for about 36 per cent of our State Domestic Product.
It has done a fantastic job in overcoming the practical and logistical challenges around the travel, health and safety issues.
While it is not a uniform picture across the whole resources sector, iron ore, gold and nickel have been performing very strongly.
Jobs have broadly been maintained across the resources sector, and in fact jobs have been added in a number of areas.
That gives us a very solid foundation for a strong bounce back on the other side of all this.
Agriculture, our second biggest economic contributor, has also been weathering the storm comparatively well.
In a way it is lucky that the coronavirus didn’t hit us in earnest in the middle of the grain harvest season towards the end of last year.
Grain export volumes right now remain strong with strong demand across all major markets.
On the back of strong demand and a competitively priced Australian dollar, our WA grain exporters have been able to get relatively good prices.
Encouragingly, supply chain arrangements for the grain sector have held up well. We are expected to have a reasonable crop later this year which will mean a strong demand for casual workers during the harvest season later this year.
Our initiative to support the freight of crayfish, beef and other agricultural products into key export markets, combined with an expected pick-up in demand from China will be particularly helpful to WA as Australia’s leading merchandise export state.
Perth’s reinstated status as a regional city for migration purposes will help ensure that our universities will be competitive in attracting international students back to our State. International education is consistently one of our top export earners.
Over the next few months, as we seek to return to normal at a pace that is safe from a public health point of view, there will be many more challenges to overcome. But we have what it takes as a community and the best days for our State and our people are ahead of us.
This was an opinion piece published in The Sunday Times on 19 April 2020.