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29 July 2021

Interview with Lisa Millar, News Breakfast, ABC

Note

Subjects: Lockdowns; vaccine rollout; Government economic support;

LISA MILLAR:  

The Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joins us from Melbourne now. Good morning to you, Treasurer. Welcome to News Breakfast.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good morning, Lisa, and nice to be out of lockdown.

LISA MILLAR:  

Yeah, I bet. I bet. Do you regret that it’s taken so long to get these payments back to JobKeeper level?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, as the circumstances have changed so has the response. And what we’ve seen yesterday was an announcement by the Premier of New South Wales that they were extending their lockdown for another month. That required increased support, and we did so both on the household assistance side as well as the business support side. So, the household assistance, as you say, has increased from $600 to $750 a week if you’ve lost 20 hours or more of work, and from $375 to $450 a week if you have lost under 20 hours of work and more than 8 hours of work. In the case of business support, we’ve increased the threshold for businesses that are now eligible from $50 million of annual turnover to $250 million, and we’ve increased the amount that businesses can receive from a maximum of $10,000 a week to now a maximum of $100,000 a week. So, a substantial increase in the economic support flowing to New South Wales as well as a bilateral agreement with Victoria for a new $400 million economic support fund for small and medium-size business.

LISA MILLAR:  

Yeah, but a lot of people are saying it’s come late. You know, the businesses and unions and social community groups were saying it needed to come a whole lot earlier than now.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, as you know, Victoria has just come out of a two-week lockdown, but from day one of that lockdown households were eligible for the direct economic support coming through Services Australia. And unlike JobKeeper, these payments were made based on the number of hours each worker had lost as opposed to the turnover reduction in the business that they had worked for. So, these payments had a wider number of recipients in the sense that casuals were now eligible for it, and also the payments were made very quickly in the sense that some of these payments were made just 40 minutes after the applications were lodged. And more than 90 per cent of the applications were lodged online, and that’s been very helpful in getting the money out quickly.

LISA MILLAR:  

Yeah, well you were not anticipating having to spend this amount of money. Have you got a ceiling on what you’re going to spend? Is there a limit here or you just keep racking up the debt and deficit?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it’s certainly costing the economy, the budget and the country a significant amount of money. But we have no alternative other than to ensure we get on top of these outbreaks when they occur, and my sense is that you’ll now see shorter and sharpish lockdowns as the default position of state governments until we get a sufficient number of people vaccinated. And what’s that the Doherty modelling that will be discussed at national cabinet tomorrow is all about. And that is why we’re rolling out the vaccine as quickly as possible.

LISA MILLAR:

So, Victoria is the gold standard now? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, unfortunately, and tragically here in Victoria, more than 90 per cent of the deaths have taken place and we’ve been in lockdown for more than 200 days. But I have welcomed, and I did support the short, sharp lockdown that the Andrews government undertook. And it’s very pleasing to see life starting to get back to a COVID normal, although the restrictions are still in place in many parts of the city.

LISA MILLAR:  

And this is the kind of language, though, that you and the Prime Minister have been using - the gold standard, you know, the Prime Minister now saying, you know, we can go for gold, but apparently it wasn’t a race, but it is a race. I mean, it’s the language from the government that has led many people to be feeling the way they are.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, in terms of the response of the government - and I include both the state governments and the federal government -

LISA MILLAR:  

That it’s not a race. No, we’re talking about the federal government response, though, and the Prime Minister’s comments about it being not a race, because it clearly is.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, we’ve got as vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. The Delta variant has created new challenges and that is why state governments have been responding the way they do. But the key point for Australia to not lose sight of is that we have now seen our economy become bigger today than it was going into the pandemic. That was ahead of any other advanced economy around the world and there been -

LISA MILLAR:  

Yeah, but we’re looking at the September quarter being negative and could very well see the December quarter. In fact, what’s your view on that today? How likely are we going to see a second quarter of negative growth and, therefore, a technical recession?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, it’s certainly too early to be definitive about the December quarter. My expectation, Lisa, is that the September quarter will be negative. But with respect to the December quarter, that does depend to a large extent how successful New South Wales, our largest state economy, is in getting on top of this virus. And that’s why people need to follow the health advice and that’s why it’s also important for our economy that both South Australia and Victoria have come out of these lockdowns. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have avoided the fate of so many other nations with the huge loss of life. The average across the OECD is more than 30,000 lives being lost to COVID. Indeed, in the UK, which is opening up right now, 130,000 lives have been lost. Tragically in Australia we have seen just over 900 lives that have been lost. But it’s far below the numbers of lives that have been lost around the rest of the world. And as I did say, the economy did bounce back very strongly after the lockdowns we saw last year. But we can be confident about the inherent resilience and strength of our economy. We get on top of this virus, I am confident that the economy will bounce back strongly.

LISA MILLAR:  

And if we get that vaccination rate above 17.2 per cent. Treasurer, got to leave it there. Thank you.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

My pleasure, Lisa.