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18 September 2020

Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

Note

Subjects: Tax cuts; August labour force figures; effective unemployment rate; Queensland border closures; JobSeeker; mutual obligation; economic and health response to coronavirus;

NEIL BREEN:

Good morning to you Treasurer.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Good morning Neil and good morning to Queenslanders.

NEIL BREEN:

Yes, well you are not welcome here at the moment, in Queensland Treasurer. But you are welcome to talk to us anytime you want.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

I appreciate that, and you know we’ve got a soft spot in our hearts for Queenslanders, and dare I say even that I’m a Melbourne Storm fan, I hope I have friends up there.

NEIL BREEN:

Well we’re heading for the spoon Treasurer, we’re going socking in Brisbane. So tell us about the prospect of these tax cuts. Could we expect a bonus?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well as you know we took to the last election a proposal for $158 billion worth of tax cuts. That was off the back of what we took to the election before, and we legislated successfully those measures through the Parliament. We are giving consideration to the timing of those tax cuts, recognising that when people get more money in their pocket that means that they can spend more, that helps create demand, and that helps create jobs. Because that’s what it’s all about, Australia’s economic recovery from a once in a hundred year economic shock.

NEIL BREEN:

I just wanted to talk about the jobless rate, right, I’m getting myself confused. So the unemployment rate is 6.8, it comes down from 7.5. But what I can’t understand is how many people aren’t on that rate because they’re getting JobKeeper? Am I making sense? Do you know what I mean? Like, the 6.8 sort of means nothing to me because of JobKeeper.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well that is why the Prime Minister and I have been referring to what is the effective unemployment rate. Which not only takes into account those who are officially unemployed, but also those whose hours have been reduced to zero and who may be receiving JobKeeper but because of the restrictions, like the international border closures or because of other health restrictions that they haven’t been able to work day-to-day as they normally would. So the effective unemployment rate takes into account those who are officially unemployed, those whose hours have gone to zero, or those who have left the workforce all together and that number is at 9.3 per cent. So it’s higher than the 6.8 per cent and it’s probably a more accurate reflection of where the employment market is. The good news though, for your listeners, is it came down yesterday, just like the official unemployment rate came down yesterday and we are moving in the right direction. Jobs are coming back, as restrictions are eased, the virus has got under control, and businesses are feeling more confident to hire people.

NEIL BREEN:

Is Queensland performing poorly with the 7.5 per cent rate, if you consider Victoria’s 7.1 per cent in total lockdown and the rest of Australia is 6.8. Are we preforming badly in Queensland? 

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well there were 18,000 jobs that were created in the last month in Queensland, and we welcome those numbers. But you’re right, your unemployment rate at 7.5 per cent, is higher than in Western Australia where it’s 7 per cent, it’s higher than in New South Wales where it’s 6.7 per cent. And of course, if you can ease those border restrictions when it’s obviously safe to do so, then that will help create more jobs and of course the activities of the Federal Government are designed to boost the support across the economy and to support businesses as they grow, hire and innovate.

NEIL BREEN:

Our Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles, yesterday said that criticism from the Federal Government about the border closures was part of a grand conspiracy concocted in the Prime Minister’s office to bring about the downfall of a Labor government in Queensland. What do you have to say to that?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well I suppose he also thinks that Fidel Castro killed JFK, I don’t know what other conspiracies he’s thinking about. I mean, the reality is, maybe he believes in UFOS and Godzilla. I mean the reality is, the closed borders cost jobs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a closed border with Queensland and New South Wales or whether it’s a closed border with Western Australia or it’s a closed border with South Australia. It doesn’t matter who’s in office in the state government, our position is the same. Obviously the situation in Victoria in relation to COVID-19 is worse than it is in the other states and there has to be precautions around that. But as far as the rest of the country is concerned and particularly a good example is New South Wales, they’ve had new cases pretty much daily, but they’ve been able to manage those new cases, isolate them without closing down their economy or costing jobs.

NEIL BREEN:

Talking about jobs, there’s reports today around that people who are on the dole, or JobSeeker I should call it, will be required to look for a minimum of eight jobs a month. Are those reports accurate?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

We are reintroducing the mutual obligation requirements for JobSeekers and…

NEIL BREEN:

I think most people will applaud that by the way.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Yeah, and that is a reflection that restrictions are being eased and that people are getting back to work. Obviously the Government is there to support those who need it but at the same time we expect something in return, namely that people will work with an employment service provider, they’ll agree to a job plan and they will go out there and start looking for acceptable work.

NEIL BREEN:

When you’re the Federal Treasurer everyone knocks on your door and the Health Minister, Greg Hunt has been knocking on your door and he and the Prime Minister will later announce a $2 billion extension to a range of COVID-19 health measures for a further six months to 31 March 2021, how do you keep finding the money? Because you have to.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Every dollar that we spend today is a borrowed dollar Neil, that’s the reality and the debt will be there for future generations to pay back. But the way to pay back that debt is not through higher taxes or not through reducing services, it’s actually by growing the economy and the best way to grow the economy is to have more flexible labour markets, is to cut red tape so businesses can spend more time growing their business as opposed to filling in forms, it’s bringing forward infrastructure spending which we have done as well as a whole host of other measures using our tax system and our education system and investing in skills. So we’re very much focused on our jobs plan as laying the road to recovery. Because it’s all about the recovery. Australia has fared much better than so many other nations around the world. We just got the New Zealand GDP numbers for the June quarter, they were down by more than 12 per cent. In France they were down by around 14 per cent, in the United Kingdom by more than 20 per cent, here in Australia it was seven per cent. So we are obviously, people are doing it tough, there’s no doubt about that and there’s still a long way to go in the recovery. But there are some encouraging signs and yesterday’s numbers were 111,000 people got a job over the month of August was certainly better than what the market was expecting.

NEIL BREEN:

That was far better. Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, thanks so much for joining us on 4BC breakfast. I’ve got your address, I’m going to send you a postcard so you don’t forget what we look like.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Look forward to seeing you.