Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Thursday, 23 July 2020
WALEED ALY: It is Finance Minister Mathias Cormann's job to get us on that road to economic recovery, so it is a good thing he joins us now. Thanks so much for your time Minister. These forecasts, as grim as they are, acre actually based on some optimistic expectations, like Victoria only being in lockdown for six weeks, New South Wales not going into lockdown at all, our international borders opening up next year. How realistic is all that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Very important to remember that what we have provided today is an update in terms of the fiscal impact of the coronavirus crisis and the measures we have had to take so far. It is based on the best available information, but we are being quite candid about the fact that the economic and the health outlook is highly uncertain and there is likely to be volatility and fluidity moving forward.
EM RUSCIANO: Minister, what should our path to recovery look like?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We want to ensure that businesses around Australia have the confidence to invest into their future growth so that they can hire more Australians again. We want to protect as many jobs as we can. We want to keep as many jobs as we can. We want to restore as many jobs as we can as soon as soon possible and we want to create as many new jobs as possible as soon as possible. We have to go back to focusing on our strengths as a trading nation and we have to take comfort from the fact that on an international basis, we are in a better, stronger, more resilient position than most other countries around the world.
GORGI COGHLAN: Today you predicted peak unemployment of over nine per cent, so that is another 240,000 Aussies set to lose their jobs. Is it too early to be cutting JobSeeker rates?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have provided crisis level temporary support over the initial six month period, over the next six month period as we start to enter into the recovery. We do have to get ourselves back into a situation as close as possible to normal. That is what we're working on sensibly. In the month of June, 280,000 people re-joined the labour market, workforce participation went up, hours worked went up, underemployment went down, 210,000 jobs were restored in the economy and we will continue to work to provide the right incentives for people to get back into the labour market.
WALEED ALY; And yet for all that, this is the most serious set of figures since World War II by your Government’s own admission. The economy in its toughest position since then, so just it seems a very strange time to be winding down some of the support and the stimulus that we have at the moment once we hit September. Why would you want to do that at this moment?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are providing very significant stimulus into the economy in the 2020-21 financial year, but we are also making sure that we position the economy in the best possible way for the strongest possible recovery on the other side. Part of that involves providing appropriate incentives for people to get back into work as soon as possible.
WALEED ALY: Yesterday we learned that one of the main reasons we are seeing what we are in Victoria is that people are choosing to go to work when they should be getting tested and self-isolating because they do not have the leave. Back in March, the ACTU said that we needed pandemic leave for everyone so they would never have to make that decision and you would not get the health and economic consequences that flowed from all of that. Was it a mistake not to take that advice and implement something like that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not accept that proposition. People around Australia, including Victoria, particularly right now in Victoria, should heed the health advice. There are supports available for people who need income support. To put forward a blanket proposition like that is not something that we thought was sensible at the time and at this point in time we do not believe it is something that is sensible at this point in time.
WALEED ALY: But hasn't it proven that it would be sensible? If we had something like that in place. Obviously, the figures we are seeing in Victoria would not be there and the economic hit we are taking would have been a lot less?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We are providing historically unprecedented crisis level temporary fiscal support, historically unprecedented. Lots of people want us to spend even more at the same time as pointing to what they describe as excessive levels of debt. We are making the best possible decisions in the context of a very difficult working environment. There is a limit to how much can be done. There are responsibilities here also for the Government in Victoria, given the circumstances that are playing out in the Victorian context.
PETER HELLIER: Of course, Mathias you have announced that you are leaving us….interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not just yet.
PETER HELLIER: Not us personally. Not just yet….interrupted
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not just yet. I am still here.
PETER HELLIER: Have you applied for JobSeeker yet? How did that go for you?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I have another few months to go. I have another Budget and another half yearly Budget update to work on. When we get towards Christmas, I will turn my mind to what I might appropriately do next. There is a lot of work to be done in the intervening period.
WALEED ALY: I tell you what, if JobSeeker goes up just before Mathias retires, it is going to be fascinating viewing. Minister, thank you very much for your time, we appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.