Several weeks ago I said that Australians were a strong people, but with the pandemic upon us, we were about to find out just how strong we were.
Facing the most serious threat to our way of life in generations, Australians have stepped up.
We’ve adapted, made sacrifices, and made sure we have supported each other.
We’ve worked together – employers and employees to save jobs; banks working to save businesses and homes; and even in politics, we’ve found common ground on many fronts through the National Cabinet of States and Territories with the federal Government.
For many of us, the changes have brought home what is most important - the bonds of family, community and country.
It’s been really tough.
Millions of Australians have been hit by devastating job losses, reduced hours, and business uncertainty. A hard reminder about just how much we depend on a strong economy for the essentials we rely on.
At the same time we have experienced the vulnerability and frustration of isolation, especially tough on those who are older and were more vulnerable to begin with.
These sacrifices have enabled us to do what most countries haven’t. We have been winning our fight against the virus, flattening the curve at the same time as boosting our health system.
While we are no more immune than we were three months ago, we now have much stronger protections in place in our health system.
Thousands of Australian lives have been saved because of the part all Australians have played. We now need to apply this same commitment to getting a million unemployed Australians back to work. That is the curve we now need to flatten.
Like a physical recovery, economic recoveries take time and effort.
Having taken up the fight to the virus and having bought time with emergency lifelines such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker programmes, we are now reopening our economy.
The National Cabinet has agreed on a three-step plan to achieve a COVID safe economy and society and is implementing that plan. Step one is almost done.
A key part of step one is finally getting kids back into school. This is also well underway, especially here in NSW.
Treasury estimates that step one will result in 250,000 people going back to work, including 83,000 people in NSW. And it will put $1 billion back into the NSW economy every month.
By the end of step three, 850,000 people will be able to get back to work, including 280,000 in NSW. With NSW representing one third of our national economy, re-opening NSW safely is a critical part of our national recovery.
In the coming months, we need to keep building confidence and momentum in our economy. This will enable us to shift our reliance from emergency assistance programmes like JobKeeper, to real and sustainable incomes that can only come by restoring jobs in the workplace.
JobKeeper is an emergency $130 billion lifeline provided by the Federal Government to more than 6 million Australians in their time of greatest need. It’s the most expensive programme in Australia’s history. And then there is the doubling of JobSeeker payments to help all those who are unable to access JobKeeper through their workplace.
These are important emergency supports, but at more than $20 billion per month they cannot go on forever. There is no money tree. All of this money has to be borrowed and paid back.
The JobKeeper and expanded JobSeeker programmes are buying us valuable time to chart our way back, but they are not the plan.
Getting people back into real jobs in growing businesses is the only sustainable way we will get Australians and our economy back on their feet.
I am conscious of the size of the challenge. This is the biggest economic shock in Australian history – $50 billion lost to our economy in just over just three months.
But looking to the future, I would rather be in Australia than anywhere else in the world.
The foundation of our recovery will be continued success on the health front.
That means having a COVID safe Australia. Relying on the capability we are building to track and trace the virus. More Australians downloading the COVIDSafe app will strengthen this capacity – it is vital to our national efforts.
As well, businesses, unions and governments are working on efforts to ensure our workplaces are COVID safe. For many businesses, that will mean adjustments to existing layouts, practices and policies.
Beyond the here and now, we need to look at policy settings across all areas and ask a simple question: Are they fit-for-purpose to create jobs and fire economic growth?
In the lead up to the Budget in October, this question will inform the decisions we make. On tax, on getting state and federal governments to work better together, on enabling workers and their employers to do better deals where they can both benefit, on getting rid of job destroying government regulation, on making energy more affordable and reliable, and making sure we are training Australians with the skills they need to be successful in their jobs.
This pandemic has shown we can never be complacent about the things we need to do to grow our economy and generate jobs.
Whilst we face the greatest economic shock in 90 years, I am an optimist about what is ahead. Throughout this pandemic, Australians have shown each other what we can achieve when we work together.