Thursday, 14 May 2020
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business, Senator Cash. Can the minister update the Senate on the Australian labour force figures for the month of April? Further, what steps is the Liberal-National coalition government taking to contain the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on employment?
I thank Senator Abetz for the question. As the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation today, this is a very tough day for so many Australians, and some very difficult news for all of us. As the Minister for Finance has said, though, COVID-19 is a health and economic shock the likes of which not just Australia but the world has never seen. The government knew that the impact of COVID-19 on the economy would result in job losses. Today's jobs figures saw the number of jobs decrease by 594,300 in the month of April. We went from record employment of 13 million Australians in March to 12.4 million due to the impact of COVID-19. As a result, what we've seen today is the unemployment rate rise to 6.2 per cent. We also saw the participation rate, which was at a near record high again, at 66 cent in March, fall to 63.5 per cent. Again, as the Prime Minister said, those Australians who have lost their jobs are our fellow Australians; they're our family members, our friends and our neighbours. Given that significant parts of the Australian economy are still in lockdown—they are subject to those COVID-19 restrictions—today's figures are not surprising, but they clearly do show the difficult situation being faced by so many Australians. Today's unemployment figures would have been far higher, though, if the government had not introduced its $130 billion JobKeeper program, which the Prime Minister also announced today now covers six million workers.
As the parliament would be aware, the government has put in place $320 billion in economic support measures to get through and past the COVID-19 crisis. This includes the JobKeeper payment, which now covers around six million Australians, the expansion of the JobSeeker payment, access to superannuation, and, of course, direct financial support to families. When we look at Australia's investment, in terms of a percentage of GDP our investment is at the top of the leaderboard globally, showing that we are as prepared as we can be, in terms of other countries. Again, as the Prime Minister has confirmed today, the $130 billion JobKeeper payment now supports over six million employees staying connected to their employer.
Thank you for that answer, Minister. Turning to the long term, what plans will the government implement to restore our economic fortunes, support small business, the engine room of jobs growth, and, most importantly, get Australians back into employment?
(—) (): The ability for the government to respond in the way that it has with the $320 billion support measures really has reminded Australians of the importance of a strong and stable financial position. The path to recovery is by growing the economy—as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance himself have said—through productivity enhancing reforms and, of course, supporting small and family businesses. The focus of our recovery will be on practical solutions, including reskilling and upskilling the workforce, maintaining our $100 billion ten-year infrastructure pipeline. Infrastructure does create jobs. But there is the important cutting of red tape, to reduce the cost burden on businesses and on the economy. There is a long road ahead. No doubt there will be further challenges, but we are prepared to face them. (Time expired)