Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Thursday, 20 May 2021
Scott Emerson: Breaking news, and you're not going to believe this. We saw the first unemployment figures come out post JobKeeper ending. Now, overall nationally, the numbers were down by 0.1 per cent in March, from March, 5.5 per cent for April, and as I said JobKeeper had finished before that – So these are the first post JobKeeper figures. So a good result, but I did see that the participation rate, those looking for work that dropped a little bit as well, so maybe that is the reason why. Now, Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, he's on the line now. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive.
Simon Birmingham: G’Day Scott, it's great to be with you again.
Scott Emerson: Good figures today, especially with some commentators forecasting that with the end of JobKeeper, we might see unemployment go up.
Simon Birmingham: These are very encouraging figures. I mean, month to month, you have to expect there will be small movements in different statistics and indicators here. But the trend is just so important and this is the seventh consecutive month in which unemployment has fallen. We've seen more than 900,000 jobs re-created and created since unemployment peaked in May of last year. And we've got unemployment rate down to 5.5 per cent, and really encouragingly, the youth unemployment level is at its lowest level since 2009. And so these all point to the fact that we have an economic plan that is working and that really is the envy of the world in terms of the way in which Australia's economy is bouncing back and doing so strongly.
Scott Emerson: As I said, just a small drop this from March to April by 0.1. And you could put that down to the drop or so the participation rate, which means fewer people actually looking for work have given up looking for work maybe, so not doesn't necessarily a glowing tick for your government.
Simon Birmingham: Look Scott that's why I emphasised overall, you've got to look at the trend as it as it runs over a period of time because you will get from month to month little variations. But let's not forget that as we approach the end of JobKeeper, the Labor Party were running around the country predicting doom and gloom and really saying that this would have a profoundly negative impact. Now, that certainly hasn't been the case. Our economic plan to be able to withdraw what was an exceptional level of support, it was costing around $2 billion dollars per month to run that program a $90 billion dollar program in total. We've been able to step back from that, have more targeted economic recovery measures targeting the tourism industry, the airline, aviation, arts, entertainment sectors, as well as in the recent Budget, hand down some really strong economic growth measures that are all about, you know, reinvesting in Australian businesses and their growth, their potential to be more competitive, and particularly our plan targeting on areas of new opportunities, such as in the digital economy space and areas of medical technologies and pharmaceuticals and medicine where we see real potential for Australia to lead and grow into the future.
Scott Emerson: Alright so, well I hear the caution in your voice there and what you're saying there, Simon Birmingham. I think that's reasonable, seeing the figure we got today, only a minor drop. But again, as I said, participation rate has dropped. Let me just turn to the issue of vaccine passports. I heard Scott Morrison talk about last couple of days, but today we've seen Gladys Berejiklian, the New South Wales Premier, Queensland's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, both come out, said nope, don't like the look of that. What more discussions? Where do you stand? Is the government going to retreat from that idea of vaccine passports now, given those two premiers are very lukewarm on that issue?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think we all share the priority of keeping the borders between Australian states open and keeping a free flow of movement around Australia. I can say, having been over in Western Australia earlier this week, meeting with businesses there, being in Victoria today, meeting with businesses and many different Australians here as well, that people are getting out and about again. Our aviation and tourism industry are reporting strong recovery. You can see Qantas in their statement of results issued today, expecting their domestic travel numbers to get back up towards 95 per cent by the second half of this year. And they'll do that as long as we can continue to successfully supress COVID and keep those borders open and that's certainly our priority and I trust a shared priority across the country to maintain that suppression strategy that allows us to keep that free flow of movement and is helping the recovery across the country.
Scott Emerson: And that's fine, Simon Birmingham. But I didn't hear the one word or two words, vaccine, passport, in that complete answer there. As I said, where does federal government now stand on vaccine passport since we heard from Gladys Berejiklian and Annastacia Palaszczuk, both coming out, unity ticket, raising concerns about that idea from Scott Morrison.
Simon Birmingham: Well, these are always things that can be discussed through the national cabinet process, but the simple fact is, if we can keep the borders open between Australian states and do that by continuing to suppress COVID, then it's not necessary.
Scott Emerson: All right, then. Well, it sounds like a retreat to me in terms of having a vaccine passport. And just finally Simon Birmingham that Gold Coast salon operator - I'm sure you've heard this story already. This is the woman who's come out today, and look, I've got to be very clear here, she has now had threats online and no one supports the idea of someone being threatened anywhere. But these statements she made about that she should ban customers from her salon if they've had the vaccine because she's worried about people catching it and the consequences of reliabilities, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, banning people who have had the vaccine. What's your response to her today?
Simon Birmingham: Scott, it's a free country and people are free to be silly and foolish if they wish to, as long as it's not of harm to others. Now, I'm sure her customers will react as I would, which is I take my custom elsewhere. Of course, people should be respectful of others different opinions. But look, we have vaccines that are being made available under the safest conditions in the world in terms of what Australia's regulators have assessed, what they're recommending. We've now had well over 3 million doses administered across the country. We've got record numbers being administered each week. Really pleasingly, the first million doses were administered in 40 odd days, the second million doses administered in 19 days, the third million doses administered in 17 days. And you can see that it's really picking up in terms of the pace, that Australians are out there getting vaccinated because it's the right thing to do to follow the health advice and look, anybody who has any qualms, my advice would be go and sit down, have a chat to your GP. That's why we've got GP's involved in administering the vaccine. Talk to your doctor, not your hairdresser.
Scott Emerson: All right. Simon Birmingham, great to have you on 4BC Drive this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks Scott, my pleasure.
Scott Emerson: And that was the Federal Finance Minister.