Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Jim Wilson: Well, it's an important message, especially with a Victorian lockdown extending another seven days. Joining me now is Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
Simon Birmingham: G'day Jim, always good to be with you.
Jim Wilson: Thank you, as always, for your time. Now, what's your reaction to this lockdown in Victoria being extended?
Simon Birmingham: Look, these are tough days for many people across Victoria, families, businesses, others. And we do certainly feel for them. It's crucial in terms of the long term future for Australian's safety as well as our economic security, that we do see continued suppression of Covid-19. I hope the Victorian government will continue to monitor the circumstances very closely throughout the course of this lockdown, so that if there is a basis upon which they can end it sooner or ease the conditions earlier noting they have eased some of those for regional Victoria in particular, that they do so.
Jim Wilson: The Victorian government has blamed the lockdown on the slow vaccine rollout. Do you think that's justified?
Simon Birmingham: No, look, it's not. Clearly the vaccine rollout has faced unexpected issues through the course of this year. All Australians know that that more than three and a half million doses expected to come from Europe and contracted to come didn't turn up. Australians are particularly aware that the health advice around AstraZeneca changed and limited its application to over 50s. These are circumstances we've just had to respond to. But you've got Singapore, for example, who have got around 30 per cent of the Singaporean population vaccinated and they're in the midst of a four week lockdown right now. Now, Australia's vaccination rollout is running ahead of Japan, ahead of South Korea. We're ahead of New Zealand. We're ahead of Malaysia. We are exceeding many other countries in our region. But everyone has to acknowledge we're still dealing with very uncertain circumstances around the world. And you can see that in a country like Singapore.
Jim Wilson: I don't think Australian taxpayers outside of Victoria should be footing the bill for this lockdown. So is the federal government considering introducing any extra financial support for businesses or workers affected in Victoria?
Simon Birmingham: So overwhelmingly, the support that flows into Victoria at present is as a result of Victorian businesses qualifying for things that we already have in place for businesses our loss carry back arrangements that we already had extended in the last budget. You would assume more Victorian businesses will now be able to claim more under that as a result of this disruption, just the same as the pandemic leave payments that we continue to have. Obviously, Victorians will be accessing those pandemic leave payments more than other Australians. That's how good national policy settings work in terms of providing that type of scaled up support that exists if the same sort of circumstance were to occur anywhere else in the rest of the country. As for anything specifically targeted to Victoria, we have to date said, well, we've provided around 45 billion dollars of economic assistance that's flowed into Victoria through the life of this pandemic. Victoria's announced to get through this lockdown, targeted support of around 400 million dollars. We welcome that. It's appropriate that the state really does provide that targeted assistance where the actions are more regional in their nature.
Jim Wilson: So you won't be reintroducing JobKeeper in Victoria?
Simon Birmingham: No, we won't be going down a pathway like that. JobKeeper really worked because it was a national program. So many businesses today operate across different state boundaries or operate at a national level. It would be quite challenging to have a program like JobKeeper applying just in one city or one state because of the way the eligibility around it was operated. Of course, Prime Minister will talk to the acting Victorian premier, the treasurer talking to his counterpart in Victoria as well. And if there are sensible things that we can do or should do, then we'll give that proper analysis. But Australians rightly, I think, expect that local governments, state governments take care of matters specific to them. They're also not averse to making sure there's a helping hand. And that's where those national policy settings are set up so that if a state has higher need at a point in time, well, indeed, that's that's the way those policies work. And businesses and individuals will access those settings of higher need.
Jim Wilson: More good news on the economy today. Great numbers out of national accounts, GDP up one point eight per cent, Minister better than expected?
Simon Birmingham: It is above expectations and it's also above the rest of the world. And so Australia's economy continues to show really strong recovery as a result of the policy settings put in place, but also as a result of the resilience of Australians in Australian businesses through this time. But we're showing growth stronger, faster than pretty much any other major developed economy around the world. We are seeing now that Australia's economy is actually bigger than it was pre pandemic, and that's a pretty amazing accomplishment given the extent of economic devastation around the globe for us to achieve that. And crucially, it's some of the areas where our policies are geared to the recovery that we're seeing that growth. So we put in place in last year's budget and extended in this year's budget measures to get Australian businesses investing in new plant equipment, machinery, things that help with current economic conditions, but also make them more competitive and productive for the future. And we've seen a real surge in investment in those sorts of plant and equipment expenditure in these latest national accounts.
Jim Wilson: Minister, as always, thank you for your time this afternoon.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks to you. My pleasure.
Jim Wilson: That's Federal Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.