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Josh Frydenberg on uncertain economic times

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

When Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joined the podcast in December, the outlook was positive. While the forecast deficit was massive at nearly $200 billion, it had been revised down and the prospects for growth and employment revised up.

Frydenberg said then: “Australians go into Christmas with real cause for optimism and hope”.

Read more: Politics with Michelle Grattan: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on promising budget figures[1]

But the economic climate now is bleaker. And very uncertain.

With the September quarter set to be negative, and the December quarter dependent on New South Wales’ ability to get on top of the virus, a second recession can’t be ruled out.

But joining The Conversation podcast this week, Frydenberg looks for some silver linings. He says a likely contraction of “about 1.5%” in the September quarter would be considerably less drastic than the 7% contraction the economy saw in the June quarter of last year.

“Consumer spending is about 30% higher today than it was in March and April last year.

"Consumer confidence, similarly, is around 30% higher than it was back then”.

And the latest jobs numbers had shown that more than 200,000 people had come off unemployment benefits since that JobKeeper ended.

“So I’m confident that the underlying fundamentals of the Australian economy [are] sound.”

With the New South Wales lockdown more than likely to continue into a third month and other lockdowns around the country, the government has remained steadfast in its decision to not reinstate JobKeeper, relying instead on COVID disaster payments to support workers.

A criticism levelled against the JobKeeper program was that money was wasted going to companies which ended up making profits, and then not returning the funds.

The treasurer calls JobKeeper “a remarkable success” which “restored confidence immediately after it was announced.

"If we had said at the time, you know, Grattan Enterprises would have to pay it all back if somehow they got through the crisis, the likelihood would have been that[…]some businesses wouldn’t have taken that money and therefore would have let their staff go.”

Once borders are open, and we are back to some sort of normality, Frydenberg looks to migration to assist in the economic recovery, and in countering “the impacts and consequences of an ageing population” outlined in this year’s Intergenerational Report.

Frydenberg supports a migration programme which strikes “the right balance”.

A program which “goes to our humanity with the resettlement of refugees[…]goes to the needs, the immediate needs of the economy with skilled workers, and[…] goes to the harmony of our society, with family reunions and the like.”

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A List of Ways to Die[2], Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

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