Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Adrian Franklin: In other news, JobKeeper wraps up this Sunday. So what does that mean for workers? For more on this, it's a pleasure to welcome back the federal Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham. Welcome to News again.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Adrian. Great to be with you.
Adrian Franklin: So it's been a bit of a tough week. We do want to talk about JobKeeper and what's to take place here in Australia with the economy. But to start, the Prime Minister has been criticised by many for perhaps trying to manage certain situations in the hope that they may disappear rather than take a stand. Do you think this is fair criticism?
Simon Birmingham: No, I don't. I think we all live and learn. And there's no doubt about that in terms of listening and understanding and hearing the real power, in terms of the stories that are told by individuals, particularly by women, about issues, bullying, harassment, and indeed the instances of terrible sexual assault and misdeeds that occur across workplaces. And I think seeing the many thousands of people who have rallied, who have spoken up in recent weeks, is a demonstration that clearly there's work for the parliament to do, everybody can say that. To make sure that this place we should set an example for the nation does exactly that, but also work to continue to support change across the country in the drive towards equality.
Adrian Franklin: We had Adam Bandt on taking us earlier this week and he spoke about the fact that he needs to see the prime minister remove the attorney general, Christian Porter. It sounds like he might be considering this. We realise the allegations against him, are unproven. The case has been, of course, thrown out. But is it more about what people feel out there in Australia at the moment? Do you think that decision does need to be made?
Simon Birmingham: I think and in the framing of your question, you kind of highlight clearly there the challenges that exist. It's important that we maintain the rule of law, maintain a presumption of innocence, that these things are integral to the way a fair country with a fair justice system works. But it's also crucial that we hear, as I say, the voices of those who rightly identify that there's still too much sexual harassment across countries like Australia and there's still too much bullying that occurs in workplaces. And there is certainly still too much family and domestic violence that occurs and sexual assault. And that occurs. And indeed, the conviction rates in those areas are often too low. And so what types of reforms can be made to help to enhance our criminal justice systems, workplaces, our homes. These are all areas that in terms of tackling domestic violence, sexual violence, workplace misconduct and harassment are crucial areas for ongoing government work. Now, it's not that nothing is improved or nothing is happening in those areas over the years, many efforts have been made and continue to be made. But it's crucial that we absolutely build upon the.
Adrian Franklin: I agree. We'll keep that conversation going. But for now, we will move on. There's plenty of other news out there. JobKeeper, of course, ends this Sunday, I believe. So this is a moment that many of Australians have been looking towards to think how will this affect people's lives and their jobs as well in so many ways. So what can you tell us about what will change and what you're looking forward to as well?
Simon Birmingham: So this is a real transition point indeed, demonstrating just the overall success of Australia's economic recovery. We are growing faster than most other comparable developed nations around the world. We've seen a recovery employment market far stronger than anticipated. There was expectations at one stage that unemployment would still be yet to peak somewhere around seven and a half per cent mark. And instead, we've now got unemployment down to five point eight per cent, we got the number of jobs in Australia back to a level above where it was in March of last year. That's an incredible, incredible rate of recovery to have seen. Yes, there are still some businesses doing it tough and certainly some individuals are doing it tough. And that's why as we transition out of the economy, wide measures like JobKeeper, which has been the single largest intervention into an Australian economy by an Australian government ever, we now move into more targeted phases. Those targeted phases of support involve things like our aviation tourism package, one point two billion dollars worth of support announced in recent weeks. One hundred and thirty five million dollars of additional supporting the arts and entertainment sector that has been announced today. And this is about stepping through those. Sectors that we know still face climate related impacts, helping to support their survival, their recovery, but allowing the rest of the economy to return to more normal settings, reflective of the fact that we've seen such strong economic recovery today.
Adrian Franklin: What do you what do you put it down to? I think many people agree that the economy, the Australian government, have really managed this period of time very well compared with so many countries around the world. What do you put that down to? Was one particular decision, was it JobKeeper? Was it the stimulus that's going back into the economy? Because the world has really watched Australia in so many ways. And they say they have done a great job. Can you put it down to one thing?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think the first point there and the biggest perhaps is that to have strong economic outcomes, you do need strong health outcomes. And so had COOVID gotten away from us and had it run rampant throughout the country and had we had the scenes that other countries have had overflowing hospitals, of health systems under crisis and collapse of mass graves and so on, then I'm pretty sure we would have seen economic catastrophe follow suit. But certainly JobKeeper and the scale of overall support for businesses in Australia to make sure that we didn't have massive business failure. And that's probably the most important part around recovery wasn't just JobKeeper. JobKeeper stopped businesses from having to pay out huge redundancies when they were forced to close their doors. But our support for the banks also enabled businesses to restructure their repayments, the work of state governments around rental arrangements and relief enabled businesses to be able to restructure their rent payments. And of course, insolvency reforms at the time made sure that the businesses weren't pushed into that crisis point of insolvency at a time when they didn't have an opportunity to restructure their incomes or the like. All of that made sure that unlike other parts of the world, we didn't have huge rates of business failure and business collapse. Because when that occurs and it's so much harder to rebuild the economy because you've lost that productive base, productive capital across your economy. So Australian business have survived thanks to those interventions, and that's enabled them to put people back into jobs. And that's absolutely the focus to continue into the future.
Adrian Franklin: Let's wrap up with a story or a top [audio skip] is something that you're watching. Does the government have a position?
Simon Birmingham: Well certainly something that governments around the world are watching. Now, the market movements in cryptocurrency, just those market movements. And, of course, they are normal operations that you see of markets, although some pretty spectacular ones at times. From the perspective of governments, the important elements to look for are certainly other avenues and opportunities for efficiencies that come from cryptocurrency, are their economic advantages that can be secured, but also making sure that across the operation, crypto currencies, they are not used in ways to avoid laws to potentially operate in underground ways, or black market operations, or to avoid taxation in ways that leave a higher burden on others. Ultimately, in countries like Australia, we only get to enjoy the high quality of services we have across our healthcare systems, our education systems, our social safety net, the protection of our defence forces and the like by being able to have fair tax systems as well. We want taxes to be as low as possible. But, they also need to be spread fairly. We need to make sure that these types of emerging markets around crypto currencies don't create opportunities for people to avoid taxation in ways that leaves a heavy burden on others or strain and stress on the essential services that people rely upon.
Adrian Franklin: Just finally, on cryptocurrency, the big question for many around the world is whether it is legitimate in some ways. Clearly at the moment, people are trying to learn more about there are many people that argue that it is very legitimate. And with so much stimulus that goes into certain economies, that's why they do invest in cryptocurrency, is that dilution isn't there. And that's a key factor. Do you have a thought on whether you believe it will become legitimate, whether it is and whether Australians should look at this seriously at some stage?
Simon Birmingham: I think we're seeing such sustained levels of interest in activity at present that we do have to take the emergence and rise of cryptocurrency seriously. The reality is that the financial markets for a long period of time have shown capacity to develop new products, new financial products, new mechanisms. And this convergence, I guess, of that behavioural trend of financial markets, together with the rise of technology to see cryptocurrencies playing a bigger role in certain markets and certain environments is a demonstration that we have to take it very seriously. Look at the consequences of such cryptocurrency, and particularly from the perspective of governments, those consequences, as I outlined before. And we make sure that if they are growing. They grow in ways that achieve economic good, that flows through the economy in a positive way for the job creation and business growth, but also how we make sure that they aren't an opportunity for tax evasion, underground activities in black markets or the like either.
Adrian Franklin: Really appreciate your time on taking news. I know you're very busy, so thank you so much. And we definitely learn when you're on here and really appreciate your time. Enjoy you day. Hopefully we'll talk soon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much. My pleasure.