Treasury forecast major job losses at the end of the JobKeeper scheme, set up as an emergency measure to pay employers to keep workers on the payroll after the pandemic hit and resulting lockdowns and restrictions hit businesses across the country.
Since September, the amount has been reduced, with the scheme set to be withdrawn entirely by April.
Morrison said that after each previous payment reduction, employment bounced back.
“Let’s go back to what happened in September, that was the first gear change. We’ve just had another one in January, JobKeeper was dropped down,” he said.
“Employment went up by 180,000 after JobKeeper again changed at the end of December. 100,000 people came off JobSeeker in January. What we’re seeing is the economy change when we make each of these changes. You can’t run the Australian economy on taxpayers’ money forever. And so we’ll continue to make those changes.”
When asked by if there was “pain” ahead for workers who might lose jobs when the government stops directly paying employers, Morrison said: “What I think will happen based on what has already happened is that as the economy continues to strengthen, it’ll pick up those who will find themselves in a difficult spot. And the JobSeeker programme, that remains, the social safety net isn’t going anywhere in Australia. It’s always been there. We strengthened it during the COVID response. So that is there for people.
“And that’s why I was very encouraged that 100,000 people who were on JobSeeker at the start of January got off it by the end of January. So our economy is strengthening and that means that is the ultimate safety net for people because it means that the jobs are being created. And if you lose one in one place, then the goal is to make sure they are picked up elsewhere. And that’s what we’ve seen happen.”
When asked if Treasury’s 100,000 job losses prediction was realistic, Morrison said “we’ll see what ultimately happens”.
“But when jobs are also lost, jobs are also created, so there’s a churn effect. And so some people, you know, they will find themselves just like we saw back in October, just like we saw in January. But then we see the same people get jobs in a new place.”
His comments came as Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told jobless Australians there is plenty of work in the bush.
He indicated while the government is focused on job creation, it has no tolerance for those who are able but choose not to work when there are jobs available.
ANZ job advertisements have reached their highest levels since April 2019.
“It is also crucial that we help Australians to step up and fill the jobs with many employers who are actually crying out for workers,” Birmingham said.
“We know also there are hundreds of thousands of Australians currently on JobSeeker who are single, have no children and largely have no impediments to work.
“There are employment opportunities right across the economy for these Australians to enter the workforce.”
Birmingham said available jobs extended well beyond agriculture.
“Examples include mining and drilling companies who can’t find workers for drill rigs, or parts of the construction industry,” he said.
“Vacancies also exist in those tourism regions that have seen a resurgence in domestic tourism.
“Cleaning companies have openings that may previously have been filled by international workers, while demand continues to grow in the crucial care sectors.”
As the government steps up the case to withdraw pandemic supports in March, Senator Birmingham said 90 per cent of Australians who lost their jobs or saw their hours reduce to zero were back at work.
“But not every job has or can be saved, nor will every business be saved or be able to stay as it was,” he said.
Birmingham also warned low interest rates could not be taken for granted, arguing governments should only spend what is necessary.
“Low interest rates will help us to once again set a path way towards budget repair as and when economic circumstances allow,” he said.
“This is important to consider because we cannot assume that such low interest rates will always be there.”
He said the pandemic necessitated a dramatic shift in the government’s budget strategy over the past 12 months.
“But the fact remains that governments should only spend what is necessary.”
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