Thursday, 25 February 2021
COVID-19, News Media and Digital Platforms
We passed some sombre milestones this week around the world in our experience with COVID-19. In the United States half a million people have now lost their lives because of COVID-19, and in the United Kingdom the figure is 120,000 deaths caused by COVID-19.
In Australia, of course, we too have suffered during this pandemic. I think the figure for Australia is 909 deaths on the last count. Of course every one of those is a tragedy and worth mourning, but I think we'd have to say that we have been very fortunate compared with other countries around the world. If we look at what our death toll would have been on a proportionate basis if it had been a similar rate to that in the United States or the United Kingdom, we would have had something in the order of 40,000 deaths. So to have had fewer than 1,000 is really a testament to good management on the part of the federal government, state governments of both political persuasions and the Australian community, first and foremost, which has taken the measures, withstood the hardships, observed the social-distancing restrictions, listened to the doctors, listened to the experts and helped to keep us all safe.
With the vaccine now being rolled out, I think we can look forward to a better future. I've been pleased to see how quickly the vaccine has been rolled out, with 1,600 doses on the first day, 6,000 doses on the second day and 10,000 doses on the third day. Seventy-one aged-care facilities have now been reached across Australia and, as the health minister informed the parliament just earlier today, there have now been 28 days of no community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia. This is at a time when there were 430,000 new cases of COVID-19 overnight. Zero community transmission in Australia for 28 days is remarkable. We have the Pfizer vaccine being rolled out and the AstraZeneca vaccine has also been approved by the TGA. Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine will soon start in Australia. There is still a long road ahead, but I think we can be pleased with how we've managed the health aspects of this.
Of course, this crisis has really been twin crises—a health crisis and an economic crisis. On the economic side, this is a global shock of a scale, order and magnitude that we have not seen since the Great Depression. It's a global contraction in the order of 4.5 per cent of world GDP, some 40 times larger in size than the global financial crisis. In Australia too, of course, our economy has suffered, our workers have suffered and our businesses have suffered. Our GDP contracted by seven per cent in the June quarter. In that quarter we had 1.3 million Australians who either lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero. But through programs like JobKeeper, JobSeeker, cash injections for small business, instant asset write-offs, HomeBuilder or any number of other programs—loss carry-back provisions—we have seen the Australian economy make a remarkable recovery. In the six months between March and September we had about $70 billion go out the door through JobKeeper assistance, at the time supporting just under half of Australian businesses and almost a third of Australian workers.
But, since that time, jobs have really come back. At the end of December we had 2.1 million workers across 500,000 businesses graduate off JobKeeper. In the last four months we've had 350,000 jobs created; in the month of January alone there were 59,000 jobs. Unemployment has fallen from 6.6 per cent to 6.2 per cent and, of the 1.3 million Australians who lost their jobs or had their hours reduced to zero at the start of this crisis, 94 per cent are now back at work.
We've had our AAA credit rating affirmed just this week by Fitch's rating agency; Australia is now one of only nine countries around the world with a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies. As Fitch said at the time, Australia has weathered the pandemic well compared with its peers, and Australia's labour market appears to be on a stable path to recovery, supported by the JobKeeper program. We now have consumer and business confidence at pre-pandemic levels and we have investment spending and business confidence at pre-pandemic levels. As the RBA governor said just a few weeks back, the bounce back has been stronger and earlier than expected.
There's a long way to go, but the strong management through the crisis has also given us the bandwidth to manage other issues. In the time remaining, I want to reflect on the passage of our signature digital platforms legislation through the parliament this week. This really is a landmark piece of microeconomic reform, managing the digital platforms that are the utilities and railroads of our day to make sure they continue to act for the public benefit.