SUBJECT/S: Latest Unemployment Figures; JobKeeper; Mutual Obligation for Job Seekers;
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Joining us live now is Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business Minister, Michaelia Cash. Minister Cash, thank you for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Thank you. We’ve got over seven million Australians now receiving some kind of support from the Government to keep them in jobs. What's going to get us out of this?
MINISTER CASH: Yeah. Look, Annelise, really sobering figures yesterday. Of course, they weren't unexpected because of what we've had to do with the economy because of COVID-19. But the important thing now is, in particular, I mean, after National Cabinet meet today is for Australians to really have a good understanding of the pathway forward and the easing of restrictions. I have to say, in my home state of Western Australia, we're moving to Stage 2 on Monday and that is literally the psychological impact that that has had on Western Australians, on small businesses. Knowing that we've been able to put in place the easing of restrictions a lot faster in other states is a good thing. What will get us out of this is working together to ensure that as we do gradually ease those restrictions, we have COVID safe workplaces. Because you just look at the report you've just done from Queensland. There will be an increase in cases as we ease restrictions. The key to maintaining the easing of restrictions is the COVID safe workplaces and having downloaded that COVIDSafe app. Now more than ever, 5.7 million Australians, they've downloaded the COVIDSafe app. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But after today and the excitement that the easing of restrictions has generated, it is more important than ever that we work together to ensure that if there are outbreaks, tracked, traced, an appropriate response put in place as quickly as possible.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Is there a bit of an issue though in this approach, where you've got the states not responsible for the economic impacts but responsible for the easing of restrictions? And we see like with the Daniel Andrews approach, very hesitant to reopen the economy at the cost of those health impacts. But it's the second largest state in the country. That's going to have a drag on those unemployment figures.
MINISTER CASH: Well, look, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have made it very, very clear. Under what were the current restrictions, $4 billion a week. We were saying goodbye to that. That is what it was costing the Australian economy. Yesterday, almost 600,000 Australians
were out of work because of the restrictions of COVID-19. In terms of JobKeeper, the good news is 6 million Australians have maintained that connection with their employment. But Treasury still estimate unemployment is going to rise, but they also estimate that if we can move through to phase 3 over the next few months, we can get 850,000 people back into the workforce. The Prime Minister could not be clearer in terms of the direction of the Commonwealth. Let's ease those restrictions as quickly and efficiently and safely as possible. Let's get to Stage 3 and let's get those 850,000 people back into the workforce.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: You've deferred any requirement for mutual obligation with job seekers to be out there applying for jobs until at least June because there just simply aren't the jobs to apply for at the moment. What's going to be the trigger- you’ve extended that twice now. What will be the trigger to then reintroduce mutual obligations? Is there a certain number of unemployed that you want the number to go down to or?
MINISTER CASH: Yeah. Yeah. So look, just in terms of mutual obligation, we've extended the suspension of mutual obligation until the 1st of June. I mean, the reason we suspended it in the first place was obviously, Australia was locked down, people were at home and businesses were closing down. There was no opportunity to look for a job. It was only fair in those circumstances that people were able to receive a benefit from the government but not have to actively go out and do something they physically could not do. I've now announced that on the 1st of June, we will take into consideration the COVID-19 restrictions that are still in place, Treasury's analysis of the labour market. We would like to gradually reintroduce mutual obligation because it is just so important that people are aware of the opportunities that are there for them. And it may not be in looking for a job. It might be in undertaking a short course to increase the skills that you have.
But I've also made it clear that in that first phase, there will not be any penalties or suspensions of payments because Treasury still does expect the unemployment figure to rise. And we need to work collectively together. We need to get people back into the workforce as efficiently as possible, but we also need to understand that there will still be some people who cannot look for work. And whilst we encourage them to maintain a connection with their job provider to understand the opportunities that are there for them, it is only fair that in that first phase, there would be no suspensions or penalties applied.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: What is the incentive though if you are making more money on JobKeeper than you were in your previous employment to go back?
MINISTER CASH: Yeah. Okay. Because ultimately, we're going to get to September and the JobKeeper payment is there for six months. The Prime Minister has made that very, very clear. You want your employer to look at you and say: absolutely. Wow. You stepped up. You did everything you can to keep me in business as your employer. What a great team we're going to make going forward. And I would say to any employees out there- and certainly, you’re right. I get anecdotal evidence myself that there are people out there who are saying: I'm not going to go to work because I'm now better off at home. Just remember, this will end. We will ultimately get back to business as usual. So many employers will survive, but there will be some that don't. You want to be able to be a person who has said: that in a time of crisis, despite everything that was going on, I worked with my employer.
I always say to people, employers need employees and employees need employers. We need to work together to get you both through this crisis, so that at the other end, there’s a really good business that's open and there's some great employees that are working in those businesses.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: This unemployment has disproportionately impacted women. Of the 594,000 people no longer in work, majority, 325,000, are women. What is going to be done by the Government to make sure that women aren't forgotten in the reopening of the economy?
MINISTER CASH: We've got to do everything we can to ensure that the employment programs that we have, they specifically look at the needs of women, as we open up those sectors of the economy, in particular, part-time work. There’s so many women do want to do, that they have those opportunities to go back into those jobs. But it's really been interesting in terms of what are the- some of the issues that COVID-19 has flushed out because people have had to work from home. A lot of men in particular – and this is the anecdotal feedback I'm now getting talking to people – is they've actually realised the benefits that can be gained from working at home.
So despite everything that has happened, and no one is underestimating what has happened because of COVID-19, there are some conversations that do need to be had going forward, and that is of course employers who've made massive investments in technology for their employees to be able to work from home. If it weren't for you and your employee, if your productivity has not been affected and in some cases has actually improved, if it's helping someone’s work and lifestyle balance, why wouldn't you now have that conversation and say, as we move into this new economy, is there an opportunity for you to work at home. And in particular, extend that to men in the workplace, so you do see that natural rebalancing of flexible work. And having more men undertaking flexible work, obviously then creates more opportunities for women to come into the workforce. So I think there are some really interesting conversations to be had about some of the positive things that COVID-19 and the working from home has actually flushed out in some workplaces.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Certainly not going to look the same afterwards as we did going in.
MINISTER CASH: No.
ANNELISE NIELSEN: Thank you, Senator Michaelia Cash for your time.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Annelise. Thank you very much.