Wednesday, 26 May 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Australia has been through a lot in the past year. We have been through a once-in-a-century pandemic, we have tragically lost the life of 910 of our fellow Australians, we have been through things like lockdowns and social distancing, we have had the term 'personal hygiene' elevated to a new set of expectations about how we behave, we've had weddings cancelled, we've had guests at funerals limited, we've had people unable to visit elderly and disabled relatives in care facilities, and families have been cut off from one another, both interstate and overseas. In addition to those social impacts, our economy suffered a big impact. At the height of the pandemic in the second-quarter of last year, 3½ million people were having their jobs supported through JobKeeper and 1.3 million Australians had either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero. At the time, members here will remember, Treasury feared our unemployment rate could reach as high at 15 per cent and economy might contract as much as 20 per cent. Understandably, it was a time of great fear and great uncertainty, both in Australia and, indeed, around the world.
But one year later, Australia, in my view, is emerging exceptionally well from this crisis. We have unemployment now down to 5.5 per cent, youth unemployment at a 12-year low. We have more Australians in work now, with over 13 million people in jobs, than we had before we went into this pandemic. We have consumer sentiment at its highest level in 11 years. We are still one of only nine countries with a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies. Over 3½ million Australians have received the vaccination and, by the end of this year, everyone should have been able to receive one.
There has only been one death from COVID in Australia this year, one more death than we should have had but, nonetheless, one death. Every one of these deaths and losses and sufferings we have had from COVID is a tragedy. But when we look across the world, across the seas, at the United States, which members opposite just mentioned as a paragon or a model of some sort, there have been over half a million deaths from COVID-19 in the United States; in the United Kingdom, over 120,000 deaths. There have been 3.3 million deaths worldwide from COVID-19. In Australia, as I said there have been 910 deaths, 820 of which have been in Victoria. Whilst every one of those deaths has been a tragedy and a loss, if we looked at what we could have been facing on a proportionate basis, based on other advanced economies, we could have been facing something in the order of 30,000 to 40,000 of our fellow citizens who would have lost their lives through this.
We have the travel bubble with New Zealand now open, and the vaccination program is accelerating with a record 104,000-plus vaccinations delivered yesterday, with everyone over 50 eligible to receive the vaccination. Our economy is roaring back to life. As Steven Kennedy, the Treasury secretary, said in a speech last week:
Australia’s economic recovery from the pandemic has been stronger than we expected, stronger than we have seen from any downturn in recent history and ahead of any major advanced economy …
Now, this is not a cause for complacency and it is not a cause for self-congratulations either, but I think that perhaps a better topic could have been nonetheless found for today's MPI, because any honest and realistic appraisal of Australia's performance through this crisis would not choose a title like that which has been chosen today.
I feel for those opposite. Those opposite should hold the government to account, but my respectful suggestion is that at times their relentless cynicism and hyperbolic criticism only detracts from legitimate arguments they might have to make. When you look around the world, there are very few countries who have come through this pandemic in better shape than Australia. The health impact of the disease has been far less, orders of magnitude less, than other nations around the world, including other advanced economies. We are the only advanced economy with more people in work and more jobs than we had before the pandemic. Our economic contraction through the pandemic at 2½ per cent was one of the smallest, in part because of the success of temporary and targeted measures like JobKeeper.
We've got back to normal—the easing of health and social-distancing restrictions and the resumption of social activities, public gatherings and sporting events—much sooner than any other country. As I said, this is no cause for complacency, and we are preparing for the future. We've had 3.795 million vaccine doses administered to date, a record 104,658 delivered just yesterday, 25 May. We expect to have 4½ million Pfizer doses in the country by the end of June and then over seven million in each of the third and fourth quarters, which should allow us to ramp up to around half a million Pfizer doses per week in the third quarter. The sooner we get this done, and this will be a combined national effort not just of the federal government but of the states, primary healthcare providers and GPs, and our citizens, the sooner we can ease our border restrictions and the more we can resume normal activity.
The pandemic is far from over, but we can see our way out. The journey may not be linear, but let's keep our eye on the ball and focus on what we have achieved.