Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Wednesday, 28 July 2021
Karl Stefanovic: Millions of Sydneysiders face being stuck at home until at least spring, with the premiere today announcing a month long extension to the lockdown. For more, we're joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide. Simon, good morning to you. For Sydney, four more weeks. Boy. Oh, boy.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Karl. These are tough times, indeed, for many Sydneysiders and, of course, what we want to ensure is that we help Sydney through this lockdown, through these tough times and help them to do it successfully as well. We've already got around half a billion dollars a week in economic assistance flowing into New South Wales families, households and businesses. Over the last few days through cabinet level processes as a Government we have been working on the types of measures necessary to make sure that we continue to deliver that support to Sydney so that they can make this lockdown a success and suppress the virus, get people through it in terms of their economic and personal financial conditions, and make sure that our economy bounces back strongly afterwards once again.
Karl Stefanovic: I get that it's complicated. Consumer spending is now at pre JobKeeper levels. You have got some big issues on your hands. What's your move?
Simon Birmingham: Well, indeed, look, there are big challenges, but we also have big support underway already, in fact, we have now more people in Sydney receiving the COVID disaster assistance payment and then we're receiving JobKeeper in its first phase. That's showing that the program we've put in place now is able to reach those, some of whom weren't able to be reached before whilst being more targeted to the part of the country that is facing the long, deep lockdown they do right now.
Karl Stefanovic: So why does the New South Wales Treasurer then this morning, he's written in News Corp papers that you have to bring JobKeeper back. He is having a bit of a whinge, even though the New South Wales government just pocketed one point three billion dollars in stamp duty. Is it your job to bring it back?
Simon Birmingham: It's our job to make sure there's effective support there for the people of Sydney. We're not interested in any political bickering and we are delivering that effective support. The Labor Premier of Victoria Dan Andrews has likened the COVID disaster assistance payments to being like JobKeeper. So indeed, what we are doing here is providing a payment that is more accessible. It's accessible not just to permanent casuals, but indeed to all casuals. It's hitting more households and more individuals across New South Wales and giving them that financial support. And we've been having the discussions as a federal cabinet knowing that this decision was likely to be necessary from the New South Wales government as to how we can make sure we continue to deliver that effective assistance right across Sydney.
Karl Stefanovic: There are some gaps, though, that need to be filled. Disaster payments, for example, exclude people receiving other forms of Commonwealth assistance. Chopping up income for people who have lost hours is one thing, full time workers they don't get that. The payment is for people in Commonwealth designated hotspots. People can still have restrictions as we know, but not be in a hot spot. Are you looking to plug any of those holes?
Simon Birmingham: Some of those matters have been the topic of discussions, Karl, and indeed the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the New South Wales Premier and the New South Wales Treasurer were having discussions again last night. Where really our leadership was talking to them about some of the decisions that we've been working through in the last few days. Now, today, announcements can be made both by the New South Wales government about the lockdown, but also by our government, about the nature of further assistance that can be provided to help ensure we keep getting Sydneysiders through this financially and economically, and also help to make sure that New South Wales makes this lockdown a success, because that's what we need to have occur to ensure we do successfully suppress this highly contagious delta strain that has presented a new level of challenge for governments right around the world.
Karl Stefanovic: Well, we hope it is a success because at the moment a lot of New South Wales people would feel that we're going on and on treading water with all of this without any further restrictions. It could go on and on even further than that. But just to draw a line in the sand, there's no way that you will bring back JobKeeper categorically. We won't see it again?
Simon Birmingham: What we have now is something that is reaching more households than JobKeeper did. That is able to target the regions that are affected more effectively than JobKeeper could. We've learnt in a sense over the last year how to make sure we deliver these sorts of programs. It is very much like JobKeeper in providing direct financial assistance to those who are losing hours of work. But it does so, as I say, hitting even more households, close to 400,000 individuals across New South Wales as part of some half a billion dollars of support flowing in each and every week now.
Karl Stefanovic: The problem the problem is a lot of these businesses don't have any cash flow and the cash flow has dried up. So even when we come out of this, like Victoria and South Australia are doing right now, people don't have the same cash that they had before. So you're in this never ending cycle of trying to catch up. They've got rent to pay, their bills to pay. They've got staff to pay, and there's not available cash there. I mean, are you going to be able to come to the party with that?
Simon Birmingham: So you've got the COVID disaster assistance payments, helping households and individuals there, and that is then relieving the wages pressure on businesses. In addition to that, we've got the ten thousand dollar payments, up to ten thousand dollars flowing into businesses who are eligible up to the 50 million dollar level. Now, these are, again, about making sure that we have not just the wages support there, but the business support. Australia has done this many ways better than the rest of the world both suppressing the virus and keeping businesses afloat and saving jobs. And we're delivering that same type of targeted assistance to make sure we do keep those businesses afloat and we do save the jobs so our economy can once again come back from this lockdown in Sydney as it has come back strongly right across the country from previously.
Karl Stefanovic: A lot of people anxiously awaiting those further announcements today. Simon, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.