Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 12 May 2020
DAVID KOCH: Industries hardest hit could take at least two years to make up their losses. Hospitality and tourism, as well as the retail sector, have been impacted the worst. The findings come as the Treasurer prepares to provide an economic update today on what should have Federal Budget day. 250,000 people could return to work over the next month during stage one of eased restrictions, but flouting the rules could cost the economy up to $4 billion a week if we have got to go into further lockdowns. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann joins me now. Minister, thanks for joining us. Given states are moving at different paces to ease restrictions, how confident can you be that a quarter of a million people will be back at work within a month?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is the assessment that Treasury has made and this is what is possible. We are winning the fight against the virus. We now have to get the economy going to its full potential again and get people back to work, but we have to do so in a way that is safe and that is what we are laying out today.
DAVID KOCH: Each Premier seems to have a different view on what is safe or not. Are some of the Premiers playing politics to our recovery and being a bit of a roadblock?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I would not put it like that. The truth is that different states are in different circumstances. In my home state of Western Australia, we haven't had a new case of community transmission for some weeks. Any case that has occurred has been a return traveller from overseas who has been appropriately managed in quarantine. Other states have different circumstances and so it is quite appropriate that state governments respond to the specific circumstances in their local jurisdictions.
DAVID KOCH: Yeah, but your Premier, Mark McGowan, says that his borders may stay closed from infections from the east, quote unquote, for up to six months. That seems a long time. That east isn’t that bad, is it?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Hopefully that won’t be necessary and hopefully we will be able to ease those restrictions, including those state border closures, much more swiftly than that. That is certainly what we would like to see. We do have to do everything we can to avoid a second wave because that would be the worst thing that could happen if we had to go backwards in terms of the easing of economic restrictions. That would be the worst thing for everyone.
DAVID KOCH: JobKeeper payouts. Great initiative, welcomed by industry. Has the take up been as much as you expected or less?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are now at about 5.5 million workers across Australia receiving JobKeeper payments. The estimate was about six million. It is hard to entirely predict these things with 100 per cent certainty. These are estimates and ultimately you see what the actuals are. But 5.5 million, that is getting pretty close to the six million estimate.
DAVID KOCH: There is speculation that you are going to start fiddling with JobKeeper, winding it back a bit, making it harder to qualify. Is that correct?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I think people are getting ahead of themselves. We always said that by June we would have a review into the operation of the program, but we are six weeks into a six-month program and it will be a six-month program. We want to get people back to work proper. We want businesses to get back to profitability and we do want to get ourselves into a situation where we will not need to continue to rely on JobKeeper. It is a six-month program, but yes, in June, there will be a review conducted by Treasury as we flagged from the outset.
DAVID KOCH: It is a massive program, so you are going to get a couple of rorters there. Hopefully, you throw the book at them and come down hard. Is there any feedback that there is more rorting of this system that you expected and that’s the reason for the change?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No. This is a massive program and we had to put it in place very quickly. We knew that there were going to be some challenges at the edges, but we made the decision that in order to get the support to Australians who needed it swiftly that we would accept that that would put part of what we had to deal with. A program of this magnitude, it is entirely appropriate to assess how it is going as you are halfway through and to make adjustments if that is appropriate. But again, this is a six-month program, it was always announced as a six-month program… interrupted
DAVID KOCH: So it will stay the six months?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is absolutely what we have committed.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. Minister, thanks for joining us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.