Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 21 July 2021
Leon Byner: Let's talk to the Federal Finance Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. Simon, good morning. Have you identified where the likely elements of need will be and how quickly you can get help to them?
Simon Birmingham: Hello, Leon. Well, thanks for the opportunity. Yes, the Federal Government announced overnight that that the chief medical officer of Australia has declared all of metropolitan Adelaide to be a Commonwealth hotspot. And that triggers a number of things that triggers some support in suppressing the virus, such as additional personal protective equipment being available to SA, additional support, the contact tracing and the like. It also triggers elements of financial assistance, in particular the COVID-19 disaster payment being available to people who lose hours of work during the course of this week. And what I'd encourage people who expect that they will be losing work, losing payments during the course of this week if they don't have a MyGov account set up, they should go on to the Services Australia website, follow the link set up and MyGov account and get themselves in place. And they will receive the payment some $375 if they lose between eight and 20 hours of work during the course of this week or a $600 payment if they lose more than 20 hours of work during the course of this week.
Leon Byner: How soon do they get those payments?
Simon Birmingham: So people will be able to make application at the end of the week, and then in some instances, interstate people have seen it hit their bank accounts as quickly as 40 minutes after they've made the application. For many people, of course, in jobs who might have been seeing their hours now cut back this week, they may not have a MyGov account, so to get themselves ready to most easily and readily make that application at the end of the week, they should set up a MyGov account during the course of this week.
Leon Byner: One will assume, Simon that you're working pretty closely with Rob Lucas, our Treasurer, to make things as smooth as they can be.
Simon Birmingham: We are Leon. I know many people have been asking the question when they hear that the hotspot definition applies to metropolitan Adelaide, but of course, the lockdown applies right across South Australia. What we've done with other states is to ensure that the same payments are available to people right across the state who are impacted in terms of loss of hours of work. And we work it out between the state and federal governments as to who pays that. I would anticipate that we'll have the same arrangement in place with the SA Government to ensure all South Australians can get income support. I've had discussions with the premiers as the Prime Minister and I know the Premier and Rob Lucas will be making announcements in the next hour or two.
Leon Byner: All right. Now, I know that we've got to ask you about the business support issue, because we know that there are many foodies who have to throw out everything and start again. There's an enormous amount of stuff that's had to go to waste for reasons you would understand. Are we going to be able to do the right thing by them and support them?
Simon Birmingham: Again, I expect that the State Government, from what the Premier has been indicating, will have more to say on that in the next little while. And once again, depending on the length of the lockdown, cost sharing arrangements and so on for some of these measures can begin. We all hope that it's only a one week lockdown and that the minimum supports necessary. But I do appreciate the businesses that support is necessary. And also one of the important things about those income support payments, which are very much an evolution of the JobKeeper model we had in place, that that they will provide reassurance to businesses who might have been worried about some of their staff being in distress if they lost hours this week that the financial assistance from government will be there. If businesses need to make those decisions.
Leon Byner: I'm glad to hear you say this, because we've got pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, snack bars, and, of course, not only the people that own and run them, but the workers as well. We just have to make sure that they're covered, don't we?
Simon Birmingham: We've gotten each other through this over the last 18 months. It's been a tough 18 months for many people, but Australia has still done so much better than the rest of the world. You can look at many other places, even a country like Singapore, where vaccine rates may be a little further ahead of ours, but they are re-entering a partial lockdown at present as a result of the complications of this Delta strain. And so we just have to make sure we continue to deliver the types of results that have worked to date, which have saved lives and saved businesses and saved jobs and done so far better than pretty much any other country on the planet.
Leon Byner: I think the moral of this minister would seem to be that we need to do this quickly because we need to make sure that businesses and the some of the sole proprietors and others who employ people are not disadvantaged such that their between a rock and a hard place, and they don't know what's going to happen next, they can't offer the hours they normally do. We have to really be careful of this, don't we?
Simon Birmingham: We do need to do so. One of the things that has enabled our economy to bounce back faster than others, you know, we've hit a point in Australia where we had more people back in work than we had pre pandemic prior to these lockdowns. And we were the first country in the advanced world to be able to achieve that. The reason for doing so successfully is because businesses had the resilience and support of governments throughout. And we finished last year with savings across Australia having grown by more than $200 billion. Now, that's partly because people were being a bit careful and a bit prudent, as you would be and should be during a pandemic, but also because of the extent of government assistance that had flowed direct to businesses, to households and individuals through different programmes like JobKeeper and the other income support payments that that we've provided. And it's also important as more and more South Australians find themselves affected by instructions to isolate, to know that there are immediate income support payments for those who are instructed to isolate as part of the pandemic management as well. And so all that information is there on Services Australia website.
Leon Byner: You'd be aware that people are going to judge this on their own circumstances, which will be different depending on where in the chain people are.
Simon Birmingham: Very conscious of that. And it’s where I think we've gotten this country through very, very well to date. We're determined to keep doing so. The approach has evolved as we've learnt more and the income support payments now allow us to turn them on and turn them off, depending on where lockdowns are, rather than the enormous cost and potential waste that came with a nationwide scheme when parts of the country, thankfully, are still running at normal. And we hope that in a week or two, South Australia is back to running at normal too.
Leon Byner: Minister, thanks for coming on.