Chalmers calls on govt to extend targeted JobKeeper

Labor politicians Murray Watt and Jim Chalmers held a press conference in Cairns urging the government to provide the town with more financial support.

Labor politicians Murray Watt and Jim Chalmers held a press conference in Cairns urging the government to provide the town with more financial support. Photo: TND

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers has urged the federal government to provide continued support to businesses affected by international border closures.

Speaking hours after the ABS revealed unemployment fell slightly in December, Dr Chalmers told reporters in Cairns that the suspension of overseas tourism was crushing local businesses and JobKeeper was helping them stay afloat.

Dr Chalmers said that when the wage subsidy ends on March 28, “too many local workers will lose their jobs”.

“So we need to avoid that. We need Mr Morrison and Frydenberg to understand what’s going on in Cairns and in the surrounding areas,” he said.

“We need them to understand that when the international borders are closed and tourism is impacted, that doesn’t just impact the tourism sector. It impacts the entire local economy.” 

Dr Chalmers said the knock-on effects to other parts of the economy underscored the importance of stimulus measures like JobKeeper.

When Cairns is on life support, Morrison and Frydenberg shouldn’t be pulling the plug,” he said.

Asked whether the Labor Party would like to see an extension to JobKeeper based on postcode or on industry, Dr Chalmers said it had to be “responsive to what’s actually happening in real local economies”.

It shouldn’t be beyond the government to devise some kind of test which sees JobKeeper continue, where businesses which genuinely need it receive it,” he said, while noting the government could explore other options besides JobKeeper.

JobKeeper is scheduled to end on March 28.

His comments came after the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) published new research claiming almost 320,000 jobs would be lost by September if the JobKeeper subsidy was not extended. 

TTF’s research suggested 118,000 jobs could be lost in NSW by September, 85,300 could be lost in Victoria, and 59,700 lost in Queensland.

But official data so far shows no sign of increased job shedding since the tapering of JobKeeper.

According to ABS labour force data, the economy added 90,000 new jobs in November and a further 50,000 in December, despite a reduction in the fortnightly rate of JobKeeper from $1500 to $1200 for full-time workers at the end of last September.

In a statement accompanying the new research, TTF chief executive Margy Osmond said JobKeeper must be extended and a uniform set of state border restrictions introduced to help the industry survive 2021.

Professor Brendan Murphy says international borders will mostly remain closed until next year. Photo: AAP

Suggestions that increased domestic travel can replace the lack of international visitation is a complete myth, with the average international tourist spending three times the average domestic tourist, [and] Chinese tourists … spending over five and a half times,” Ms Osmond said.

The absence of this high-yield market, the continuing uncertainty around domestic borders, and the lack of confidence that the constant border changes create make it impossible for domestic tourism to compensate for the lack of international travellers.”

Earlier this week, health secretary Brendan Murphy added to the industry’s woes by telling the ABC it was unlikely that international travel would be up and running this year.

But data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday points to promising signs elsewhere in the economy.

The unemployment rate fell to 6.6 per cent in December after workers gained another 50,000 jobs.

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