Release type: Transcript


Doorstop - ABS Labour Force figures, JobKeeper wage subsidy, JobSeeker payment


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business


Subject/s:  ABS Labour Force figures, JobKeeper wage subsidy, JobSeeker payment

MINISTER CASH: …We actually have seen the creation of 5900 jobs in the month of March by the economy. We continue to have in March a record number of people in employment. The Government of course acknowledges that the period in which the unemployment survey is undertaken does not reflect the full impact of COVID-19. What it does show, though, is the strength of the labour market as we entered the COVID-19 period. Australians were still at that time ready and willing to work. We had the participation rate remain strong and steady at 66 per cent. We also saw a decrease in the number of youth unemployed and we currently have a record number for March of youth in employment.

But, again, the Government has made it very, very clear that, despite these figures, we know and the Treasury modelling shows, that unemployment will spike in June at around 10 per cent. But that is why the government has brought in to place the JobKeeper payment. Today, we have had over 850,000 businesses signal their intention to claim for the JobKeeper payment. The Government is very, very aware that we need to ensure that as many Australians as possible are either kept in employment or are given that connection to their employer. And we are pleased that over 850,000 businesses to date have registered their intention to claim JobKeeper. It is also why, though, we also brought in the COVID-19 supplement because we do acknowledge that those people who are unable to claim the JobKeeper payment will need to avail themselves to the JobSeeker payment. And that is why we brought in the COVID-19 supplement, in acknowledgement that there will be many, many people who won’t necessarily qualify for JobKeeper, but will be able to avail themselves to JobSeeker.

But in terms of the figures for today, a rise in unemployment rate from 5.1 to 5.2 per cent, but 5900 jobs created for the month of March, strong participation at 66 per cent, and we continue to have a record number of Australians in employment. But again, the Government is the first to acknowledge that the period does not reflect the impact of COVID-19. But what the Treasury modelling does show is that, whilst, yes, unemployment will peak in June at around 10 per cent. Treasury have also been very, very clear. If the Government had not implemented the JobKeeper payment, you would have seen employment peak much higher, in fact, at around 15 per cent. Again, the Government has brought in $320 billion to date in terms of its economic response to COVID-19. The Prime Minister has always been clear: this is a health crisis that Australia is facing. It is a health crisis that has had a significant impact on the economy and that is why the JobKeeper payment was just so important, to ensure that as many Australians as possible are able to either be kept in employment or alternatively have that connection to their employer, so that as we do come only out of this crisis – and as we all know, we will come out of this crisis – as many businesses as possible are able to get up and running as quickly as possible, with their workforce intact.

Any questions?

QUESTION: On JobKeeper, there are reports that some employers [indistinct]… some of the $1500 JobKeeper payment is there a penalty for employers who are ripping their workers off? [Indistinct]…?

MINISTER CASH: Let us make this very, very clear: as an employer, if you qualify for JobKeeper, you must – and I underline must – pass on the full $1500 benefit to the employee. And Treasury have recently released a further fact sheet in relation to the JobKeeper payment and the integrity measures. And yes, if you do not, as an employer, pass on the full $1500, you will actually have an action taken against you. So, I need to be very clear on that. Yet again, employers are expected to pass on the full $1500 to their employees, and to any employee who does not receive the full benefit –and the money starts flowing on 4 May – they should make a complaint to the ATO.

QUESTION: And what is the action that would be taken against the…[Inaudible]

MINISTER CASH: Well, that would be up to the Taxation Commissioner. But ultimately, the full $1500 must be passed on to the employee.

QUESTION: You can assure that some action will be…[Inaudible ]

MINISTER CASH: Yes. Well, you'll be in breach of the law. You will- as an employer, you will be in breach of the law if you do not pass on the full $1500.

QUESTION: We are also hearing reports that employers aren’t signing up because it is too much administration. So what do you say to those businesses who aren’t signing up?

MINISTER CASH: Well, as of today, we've had over 850,000 businesses register their intent to claim JobKeeper. That is very, very pleasing because as we know, had we not had this system in place, many of these employees would have had to avail themselves to the social security system and to the JobSeeker payment. So, any business that is able to sign up to JobKeeper, I would be encouraging absolutely do that. And certainly, the numbers of today- I mean, the numbers keep growing. Yesterday, when I was interviewed, the number was 830,000. Today, in this press conference, it’s 850,000. So certainly, what that says to me is employers want to do the right thing by their employees. They understand the benefit of maintaining that connection with their employees throughout the COVID-19 crisis and certainly the figures themselves would actually say that employers are signing up to the JobKeeper payment.

QUESTION: Do you think it is to [indistinct]…?

MINISTER CASH: No, I don't because what you do need to show, in the first instance, you've got to qualify obviously. Whether or not you've got a billion dollar plus turnover or a billion dollar below turnover. The majority of businesses are going to be a billion dollars and below. You then need to show that you have had the requisite downturn in your income whether that's 15 per cent or 30 per cent, depending on the type of business that you are.

We’re trying to keep it - and the Treasurer and the Prime Minister understand this implicitly - as simple as possible. We actually want to get this money out the door. We actually want to see employers being able to pass this money on to their employees and certainly to date, I have not had this raised with me. In fact, I've had the opposite raised with me. To date, the process has been simple. But again, the Government is always open to feedback. We want to ensure this process works and it works well for everybody. And with 850,000 businesses to date signing up and registering that intention, it would indicate businesses are keen to be part of the JobKeeper Program.

QUESTION: Has Treasury done any modelling specifically on how the coronavirus [indistinct]…?

MINISTER CASH: Any questions for Treasury modelling, I would have to refer to the Treasurer. But at the end of the day, we are all subject to the restrictions that have been imposed on us by COVID-19. The Government understands this is not easy but as the Prime Minister and the Health Minister has consistently said, this is first and foremost a health crisis. So complying with the restrictions that have been placed on us in some way, shape or form, those restrictions, is an absolute must because it's not about us individually. It's about the impact on others; the impact on, in particular, older Australians, vulnerable Australians, those with pre-existing conditions.

But what I would say the March figures for the labour force also do show that we actually saw a decrease in the youth unemployment rate and we continue to have a record number of youth in employment. That is a good thing. But as I said, we also know that is not going to be the reality when I stand here in April, May or June with unemployment set to rise and rise considerably.

But the mental health aspect of COVID-19; it is a really, really important one and that's why the Government is investing so heavily in mental health support services and it's certainly something that I discuss with small businesses every single day.

QUESTION: Some employees who work in places like restaurants or bars that have been closed down, their employers have told them that they are not going to apply for the payment because they are not actually doing any work or can’t do any work, so what happens to those people?

MINISTER CASH: Yeah. Look, it's a really good question. Employers can still apply for the payment as long as the person is on their books, and they obviously needed to be on their books as of the first of March. But there will be some situations whereby an employer is unable to open because of the health restrictions that have been placed on us and that example for so many restaurants and cafes; so many have stayed open. They are adapting, they’re doing takeaway but a number have had to close. What we would say to those employers is once we are able to act on the very best medical advice that we have and we are able to start easing restrictions, you will actually need your staff. You will need your staff if you want to get back up and running as quickly as possible. So my message to employers is this: Where you are able to apply for the JobKeeper Program and maintain that fundamental connection with your employees whom, as we know, they’re your most important asset, I would absolutely encourage you to do so and the fact that we have seen that 850,000 businesses sign up to me, would indicate they understand that; they know their employees; that they are their most important asset and they’ll do the right thing by them.

QUESTION: Are you willing to put a date on when the restrictions might start to be eased. [Indistinct]… modelling?

MINISTER CASH: You know, look, the Prime Minister has been very, very clear. This is not something that's going to go away in the short term and we should all be prepared, you know, for the current situation to be at least six months if not longer. The Government has also always said we will always act on the best medical advice available; the Chief Medical Officer who provides that advice to the government every single day. This is a health crisis and we have had to then respond to the economic impacts.

But first and foremost, we have to act in the best interests of Australians to protect them from COVID-19 and that is what we're doing.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] A lot of local vendors here have move online to try to keep there business going, how much worse would it have been if that wasn’t an option?

MINISTER CASH: Oh look, can I tell you, it’s a really good question in terms of, you know, those businesses who have been able to adapt and have been able to adapt so quickly. We're seeing more and more every day are those that had that online presence. They could literally update their website and tell the public this is what we are now doing as a result of COVID-19. And I think one of the really clear lessons that we have learnt and we continue to learn is that what is going to come out of this is very much that focus on ensuring that all businesses, but in particular, small businesses are able to have that that online technological presence because the reason so many have been able to adapt and get that message out to the public is that they have had access to technology.

And certainly, I would be, you know, looking forward to encouraging as many businesses as possible to continue with that online presence because it really is making a difference for so many businesses.

Thank you.


QUESTION: Thanks, Minister.