The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

13 March 2011

NO.008

Treasurer's Economic Note

As Australians continue to rebuild and recover after our worst set of natural disasters in memory and the recovery effort continues in Christchurch after its devastating earthquake, Japan has now been struck by one of the worst earthquakes and tsunamis the world has ever seen. This is a truly epic disaster on an almost unimaginable scale. It's one of those events where no one will forget where they were when they first saw it, and like most Australians I watched the events unfold on television with a sense of horror and disbelief. There seems to have been a relentless series of natural disasters in recent years, with our Japanese friends the latest victims and one of the hardest ever hit. I know the thoughts and prayers of all Australians are with the people of Japan in the wake of these truly horrific events.

Australian Natural Disasters

As the people of Japan just start to come to terms with the brutal scale of the earthquake and tsunami, Australians continue the long, hard slog of rebuilding after the floods and Cyclone Yasi. Just when we thought there might be a break in the severe weather that has hit Queensland over the last few months, tropical lows started dropping heavy rain and caused flooding to communities in North Queensland – many of which had already been impacted by Cyclone Yasi. We'll be standing shoulder to shoulder with people in these communities as they clean up and get back on their feet, some for the second time in as many months.

One sector that has taken a real battering from our recent natural disasters is tourism, with tragic images in the media leaving some potential visitors with the impression that Queensland is not open for business. While some parts of Queensland are still dealing with the immediate challenges of adverse weather, we actually have a great story to tell about how quickly our tourism sector has got back on its feet.

That's why on Wednesday, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and I announced the details of a new $10 million tourism campaign to counter the perception that Queensland tourism operators are still out of action. Tourism is the lifeblood of regions from the Far North all the way south to the Gold Coast, with over 222,000 Queenslanders reliant on the sector for their livelihood. With 97 per cent of the sector in Queensland small or medium enterprises, it's vital that we get the message out that most of the state is as ready as ever to show why it's one of the best places in the world to visit.

Australian Jobs

Last week's labour force data very clearly showed the significant impact that the floods and Cyclone Yasi have had on our economy, and the Queensland economy in particular. The figures showed that in February, the number of people employed in Queensland fell by over 22,000 – which was by far the largest contributor to the overall decline in jobs last month. These events have also impacted on the number of people looking for work, with Queensland's participation rate falling from 67.7 per cent to 67.0 per cent in February. This outcome is no surprise in the wake of the worst set of natural disasters in our memory.

But the jobs numbers also provide encouraging evidence of how our economy has stood strong in the face of these tragic events, with the unemployment rate remaining steady at 5.0 per cent. Even more remarkable was the fact that the economy still managed to create 47,600 full-time jobs in February – a strong and impressive result by any standard. So as we continue to get on with the significant rebuilding effort in Queensland, these figures confirm that we're starting this task from a position of genuine economic strength.

We know that much of this economic strength can be put down to the resilience and optimism of our people. We saw more confirmation of this last week, with NAB's Monthly Business Survey showing that business confidence in Queensland rebounded in February to its highest level on record. According to the survey, while business confidence rebounded strongly across the country, "the sense of relief was strongest in Queensland … as the business community looked forward to reconstruction." Despite this, we know that many businesses in Queensland are still suffering, with business conditions still weak from the after-effects of the floods. But it is this strength in the face of adversity that really gives me confidence that together, we can recover and bounce back strongly.

Pulling Together

I'm a strong believer that one of the reasons for people's continued confidence in the face of such devastation has been seeing the way that their fellow Australians have pulled together to help those in need. The only reason we've been able to achieve such a comprehensive response to the floods and cyclone is because individuals, businesses, unions and governments have all been doing whatever they can to help communities rebuild and recover.

Australians have shown great generosity in donating not only millions of dollars to the various disaster relief appeals, but also significant time and skills to the recovery efforts. I'm told Volunteering Queensland, who normally receive around 400 to 600 offers of assistance a week, received 28,000 offers in just one day in the wake of the floods.

Businesses have also been making a substantial contribution, with significant in-kind assistance on top of millions of dollars in donations. I recently wrote to the CEOs of some of Australia's largest organisations encouraging them to consider where else their business can assist with the rebuilding exercise, in particular through in-kind support to local community groups. The Join Forces website – one of the ideas to flow out of the Queensland Business Taskforce – is a great initiative which allows businesses to pledge in-kind offers against community needs identified by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority.

Government has also stepped up to the mark. The Gillard Government is providing more than $6 billion for flood and cyclone-affected regions across Australia, with the vast majority of this going towards rebuilding damaged public infrastructure like roads, bridges and schools. This money is also providing urgent assistance for people, businesses and primary producers affected by flooding and Cyclone Yasi. We have already paid out around $800 million in support through Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments and Disaster Income Recovery Subsidies. We've also announced a $315 million Queensland Local Council Package to help local councils repair utilities and infrastructure, and support their efforts in recovering from the floods and cyclone. This comes on top of standard recovery funding arrangements which include concessional loans and clean-up and recovery grants for small businesses, primary producers and not-for-profit organisations in flood and cyclone-affected communities across Queensland.

Coming Up

The task ahead of the Japanese people and the global community in the days and weeks ahead cannot be underestimated. At times like these we are not just Australian citizens or Japanese citizens or citizens of one country – we are citizens of the world – and Australia stands ready to provide whatever support the Japanese Government and people need. We've already agreed to provide immediate search and rescue support at the request of the Japanese Government, and we'll continue to monitor what further assistance we can provide for our friends in Japan as they start to put the pieces together after these tragic events.

Wayne Swan
Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer of Australia
Sunday 13 March 2011

www.treasurer.gov.au