Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. ABS data released earlier this month showed that up to 700,000 people had lost their jobs since mid-March due to COVID-19. The RBA is predicting that unemployment will reach 10 per cent by the middle of the year and remain persistently high for years to come. Does the government agree with the RBA's assessment? And in what year will unemployment return to pre-coronavirus levels?
The first point I would make is that, yes, we are going through a challenging period, as a result of a very serious external health shock. The measures that we've had to take in order to save lives and protect people's health have required us to make decisions which have had a very negative, devastating effect on the economy. We are now coming out, somewhat, on the other side, which is why we've been able to see some of the early phases of the easing of restrictions taking place around Australia. But this is an incredibly challenging period. Australia is in a better position than many other countries around the world. We are winning the fight against the virus. But there is still a lot of risk.
The shadow minister for finance asked me about our expectations in terms of the unemployment rate. Well, the Treasurer and Treasury had already announced, some time ago, that the expectation was for unemployment to reach 10 per cent during the June quarter. If it hadn't been for our measures, the expectation would've been that that would've been 15 per cent. Again, if you look, on the economic front, at some of the other countries around the world, you will see unemployment rates of 15 per cent and higher in many economies around the world that have also had to deal with this challenge.
We are not making firm forecasts now. We've shifted the budget to October for a reason, and that is because there is too much uncertainty, in terms of the economic context, to make credible forecasts now. We will be providing a further update to the economic statement in June. That is what we have publicly announced. In that economic statement, which will come after the March quarter national accounts have been released in early June, we will be providing further assessments of our expectations on economic parameters like the ones Senator Gallagher has referenced. But it would be premature to say more than we have now. (Time expired)
Deloitte has also projected that unemployment will remain at heightened levels for years to come, predicting it won't reach its pre-COVID-19 level until at least 2024. However, on 13 March, the Treasurer said:
The Prime Minister was very strong on how there would be a snap back. They were his words. The economy would 'snap back' …
Does the Prime Minister stand by his snapback claim?
Of course we want to see a strong economic recovery on the other side of this crisis. That is self-evident—that that's what we want to see. And let me say: any Australian who had been watching what has happened in other economies around the world and compared that with what is happening here in Australia would say that, both on the health front and on an economic front, Australia is performing comparatively better. That doesn't mean that we're not facing continued challenges. Of course we are. And of course there is going to be much hard work that will need to be done. But let me tell you: our agenda of lower taxes, smaller government and encouraging and incentivising hard work, effort and risk-taking—these are the sorts of policy values and principles that will stand Australia in very good stead and will help us to ensure that Australians will have the best possible opportunity to get ahead in the future. We need a strong private-sector-led recovery. We need to ensure that the nine out of 10 working Australians who work for private sector businesses have the best possible job opportunities into the future. (Time expired)
I completely reject the premise of that question. I completely reject the premise of the question.
Senator Gallagher interjecting—
Well, I reject the premise of your description of the way the economy was. Let me remind the honourable senator that the last election was actually a referendum on two competing economic plans: your plan for higher taxes—your anti-business, high-taxing, socialist, anti-aspiration agenda—and our pro-opportunity, lower-taxes, pro-growth, pro-business agenda, which Australians judged was a better way to ensure that Australians today and into the future had the best possible opportunity to get ahead.
We will do what we have done in the past. We will pursue a pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda which will ensure that all Australians have the best possible opportunity to get ahead, and that is of course the basis on which, under our leadership, 1.5 million new jobs were created in the economy in the period prior to this COVID crisis hitting us—1.5 million new jobs. (Time expired)