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Source: Australian Treasurer

MARK O’REILLY:

Good morning everybody and welcome to the Glenferrie Hotel. I would particularly like to welcome Josh Frydenberg, our local Member back to his local pub. Thanks Josh for coming back, great to have you back here.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

No problems.

MARK O’REILLY:

And the support over the JobKeeper has been great for our business. We’ve got four separate areas here at the hotel and we can cater for 20 people at any one time. So we’re delighted to have the pub open today. And great to have all our customers back and we can look after them *inaudible* so I hope you enjoy.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well thanks very much, Mark. It’s great to be back here at the Glenferrie Hotel, as well as Adam and Sam Furphy. Furphy is a well-known brewer, a great brew, and it’s great to be joining with them here today. Mark at the Glenferrie Hotel employs eleven people on JobKeeper. Eleven people –  that is people who work in the kitchen, people who work in the front bar. You’ve got Adam with his business, a manufacturing business down Shepparton way, that’s got 100 people on JobKeeper. People who are involved in the design, people who are involved in the engineering, people involved in sales, people who are involved as tradespeople, using JobKeeper as an economic lifeline to get to the other side of the coronavirus crisis, a once in a century event.

But we’re here today at the Glenferrie Hotel to say cheers to our pubs opening, to our cafes and restaurants reopening, to our zoos and libraries reopening. The easing of restrictions is going to be good news for jobs in Victoria and good news for economic activity here in Victoria. And it’s a product of Victorians following the social distancing rules and it’s a product of the nation flattening the curve by reducing the number of coronavirus cases from more than 20 per cent just a matter of weeks ago, to less than 0.5 per cent a day. Now we’re not out of it, there’s still a long way to go. But Victorians and, indeed, Australians can be proud of what we have achieved on the health front. We have avoided the fate of the United Kingdom, we have avoided the fate of the United States, we have avoided the fate of many, many other countries. But we have to continue to be vigilant and to be patient.

But the success that we’ve had on the health front is now allowing us to ease the restrictions. And what National Cabinet has agreed to, easing restrictions in three separate stages will see 850,000 people back at work. It will see $9.4 billion being contributed to the economy each and every month. That is the benefit of the progress on the health front to the overall Australian economy. That means more people here at the front bar, more people working in the kitchen, more tradies coming to have a drink and to socialise after a hard day at work. So this is a good day for the people of Victoria and indeed a good day for the nation as people get back to work with the easing of restrictions.

The final thing I’d say, as we all know, we need to continue to wash our hands, practice the social distancing and also download the app with more than six million people having downloaded the app already which is helping to keep us COVID safe. I’ll now ask whether Adam would like to say a few words.

ADAM FURPHY:

Thank you Treasurer. I would just like to first of all congratulate you and express our appreciation for the work you’ve done on the JobKeeper with your Government.  I think it genuinely has hit its target, it’s allowed businesses like ours that have been affected by a reduction in orders and a *inaudible* workload caused by coronavirus in the confidence and disruption that’s it’s caused, to maintain our business and to plan and prepare for what we hope is a better day in the very near future. Our business is an old business, five generations, we’ve weathered a couple of world wars, droughts in between and this has certainly been well and truly up there in terms of the things we’ve had to face and the challenge we’ve met but with this assistance it’s been very gratefully appreciated and we think it’s definitely saved a number of jobs for our industry and we hope it really allows us to push back when things start to open up again.

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Thanks Adam. Any questions?

QUESTION:

It’s a big week of economic data, headlined by the GDP figures on Wednesday. What are you anticipating?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well the market is anticipating a negative Quarter for the March Quarter, that’s because there were bushfires which had a significant economic impact. That’s because the restrictions were already in place in that March Quarter. We know that we closed the borders to China from early February, as well as obviously the social distancing rules coming in over the course of March. But the Australian economy has been remarkably resilient. We went into this crisis from a position of economic strength and that’s going to help us come out of this crisis. So the numbers will be what they are on March. That’s what’s the market is expecting.  And I look forward to informing the public at the right time on Wednesday when we get the numbers.

QUESTION:

You’ve previously said that the arts and construction industries were doing it tough. When can they expect some *inaudible*?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, the housing sector, the construction industry, are vitally important to the Australian economy. There’s more than a million Australians who are employed in construction. Dwelling investment is worth more than $100 billion or around five per cent of GDP to the economy. We saw last year about 200,000 homes being built across the country. I said in my Ministerial Statement recently that we see dwelling investment down around 20 per cent through the June Quarter. So the Government is working through an announcement to be made shortly about support that we can give to the housing sector. Because we recognise that it’s a long supply chain. It’s not just the sparkie and the plumber and the carpenter on the building site. It’s also the timber mill, it’s also the appliance manufacturer for the new kitchen. It’s also those who help with the materials that go into the bathroom. There are lots and lots of contributors to that supply chain, to new construction in the housing sector more broadly.

In terms of the arts sector, we also recognise that there is a need there for continued support and we are working on our options, but I also point out that many in the arts sector have been receiving the JobKeeper payment as well as the JobSeeker payment. Likewise in the construction sector, it’s the number one industry covered by businesses who have taken up JobKeeper. So, of course, JobKeeper has made a big difference to that sector through this difficult period.

QUESTION:

And why should the home-renovators be working on the *inaudible*

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, look, we’ll wait for the details of the announcement to be made but what I can tell you is we’re focused on one thing; jobs. We are focused on getting people back into work. We are focused on ensuring that the private sector can continue to stimulate growth as we come out of this pandemic which has been so damaging for the economy.

QUESTION:

It’s Daniel Hurst here from The Guardian. Just on the construction side of things, if you do go down the route of providing support for renovations projects, what sort of conditions might you be contemplating? For example would it be targeted towards energy efficiency projects? And secondly, the Government has flagged extra targeted support for construction and tourism. Are there any other sectors that might need some extra targeted help such as the charities sector?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, thanks Daniel. Well again the details of the announcement will be clear at that particular time but what we are focused on is jobs and what we are focused on is meeting that gap in demand that will inevitably occur in the back half of this year. There is a pipeline of work that is currently underway, but because of the pandemic, because of the impact that it’s having on demand and confidence more generally, there’s going to be a supply gap and there is going to be a demand gap in the second half of the year, and that’s what we are working on. In terms of more generally, other sectors, we have already announced support for the aviation sector. That’s a sector that has been particularly hit. We set up a fund which has been designed to support the tourism sector and we will continue to work on other options as well. But we recognise that JobKeeper, JobSeeker is complimentary to a number of other programs and initiatives in a range of other sectors.

QUESTION:

I just have a follow up question to the proposed homebuyer grant. I understand that the details of the scheme haven’t been released yet. But are you concerned at all that some of the money to be spent on grants for people who had plans to buy a new home anyway and perhaps some grants that are already under construction? And further to that, given how bad the construction industry is likely to be hit, would the Federal Government consider announcing a plan to build more social housing to boost the economy? While also building some more social housing, of course, would help bridge the current shortfall in social affordable homes?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well firstly we recognise that the states are also partners with us in a number of housing projects and initiatives and we have already announced previous initiatives on social housing, and what we do recognise is that there is a gap in the market. So we will have more to say in due course. But what we are seeking to do is to get people to undertake construction activities, whether it’s a new home or otherwise, that may not have otherwise been the case and that’s because the economy has taken a hit and they have decided to stay on the sidelines. So what we are trying to do is to generate more activity at a time when the economy needs it, and of course, more activity means more jobs.

QUESTION:

Hi Treasurer, thanks very much. I had a question around superannuation, the early access to superannuation. It was more evident in this morning’s papers that people who are accessing their super early aren’t using it for emergencies and aren’t using it for hardship and are spending it on things like getting food. Are you concerned about this and are there any plans to perhaps tighten up the eligibility or look at the scheme for the second half of it, which is the next $10,000 which can be accessed in part of in full in the next coming financial year?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well, Pat, firstly, the system the Treasury has forecast has seen about $15 billion of super being accessed early. About 1.8 million people have accessed super early and some of them are Australians and others are temporary residents and that’s important to understand. This is their money and they will use that money for a range of purposes. But we are going through a once in a century pandemic and people do need that extra funding, that extra financial support over and above other government initiatives to help them get through this period. Now this money is tax free and that’s been an important initiative by the Government and it’s been welcomed. So we are comfortable with the fact that people are accessing their money at a time when they need it most. Because as you would be aware there are already provisions within the superannuation laws for people to access early because of hardship, their super. We think this is a continuation of that and that’s money that’s going to people’s needs.

QUESTION:

Hi Treasurer, Phil Coorey from the AFR. How are you going to prevent the price of housing increasing by giving people cash grants, given all previous cash grant schemes have done nothing but go straight onto the price of the house?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well Phil this money is, and we are obviously yet to make the announcement, but the money that we are thinking about supporting the housing sector with is designed to accelerate economic activity. You have to understand that the estimates are, for around a 20 per cent fall in dwelling investment in the June Quarter, and as that pipeline ends, then there’s going to be a greater need to stimulate demand and that is what is driving our thinking in relation to this program. Our programs around COVID have been temporary, they have also been targeted and they have also been proportionate to the challenge that we face. What we are thinking about for the housing sector is no different to that. We are talking to the states as well. I have been speaking to treasurers. The Prime Minister has been speaking to premiers and chief ministers. My colleague Michael Sukkar, the Housing Minister has been working hard on this program. What we are all focused on doing is ensuring that we can increase the level of economic activity in a sector which is critical to the economy as a whole.

QUESTION:

What’s being done to protect people’s superannuation? *inaudible*  there’s some reports about hacking people’s superannuation. What is being done and should more be done to protect people’s superannuation?

JOSH FRYDENBERG:

Well obviously the ATO have a series of integrity measures in place for all their systems. There is fraud that the ATO has to deal with every day in a whole range of areas of their activity. What we do know is that people are accessing their super to use it on the things that they need to, particularly at a time of great hardship for many, where they have either lost their job, they have had their hours reduced substantially, they have been stood down and giving people access to their own money is a good thing, particularly at a time of need such as this. Thank you.

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