'Come clean': Jim Chalmers wants the national cost of coronavirus

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers has warned the Morrison government is not offering a "real", "meaningful" or "lasting" economic recovery amid a global pandemic and he said any recovery so far was despite the government's efforts, not because of it.

And, in a major pre-budget speech, he also demanded the federal government detail the economic cost of the beleaguered COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.

Major economists such as Chris Richardson from Deloitte Access Economics have cast the Australian economy as running "red hot" despite the hits of COVID-19. A better than expected budget balance sheet is largely forecast to be handed down on May 11on the back of improving employment figures, iron ore prices and a recovery in retail all improving the budget bottom line.

Delivering the annual Forgan Smith Lecture in Brisbane, Dr Chalmers acknowledged the better than expected state of the economy, but he said Australia would be in an even better state - emerging from various economically debilitating lockdowns - but for the federal government's handling of COVID-19 in Australia.

"The Morrison government's incompetence risks betraying that sacrifice," he told a Brisbane audience on Tuesday evening.

"The recovery would be stronger were it not for the Prime Minister's continued bungling of the vaccine roll-out, which is putting the Australian peoples achievement at risk. The economy would be in better nick if he hadn't got quarantine wrong and tried to blame the states.

"Both of these debacles risk more lockdowns, drag the uncertainty out, and delay the proper opening-up of the economy."

He said the slower than expected vaccine roll-out in Australia - triggered by overseas supply problems, logistical issues, changing advice relating to adverse reactions and vaccine hesitancy - has economic consequences which must be revealed. More than 2.3 million vaccine doses have been administered so far, well short of now abandoned government targets.

"The budget must come clean on the economic cost of the botched vaccine rollout," Dr Chalmers said.

"Just as its last budget estimated that a faster rollout could boost economic activity by $34 billion, they need to come clean on the cost and risk of delay."

Foreshadowing no "sharp pivots towards austerity," federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has this week signalled that next month's budget was "another pandemic budget" which would not feature deep cuts to rein in Australia's extraordinary level of deficit.

Focusing rather on job creation and getting the unemployment rate below five - or possibly four per cent - measures have been flagged in the area of skills, biosecurity, infrastructure, tax, energy, the digital economy and deregulation. As well, there are major packages promised to address childcare, aged care and women's economic security and personal safety.

Taunting the Morrison government over economic management, Dr Chalmers said "these guys wouldn't know the fiscal levers from a selfie stick."

"We are expecting very substantial write-ups in revenue and a corresponding decrease in support payments, largely automatic," the shadow treasurer said.

"And the government can hardly claim credit for an iron ore price some multiples of what its budget papers assume."

He takes aim at the government for being more about PR spin than substance, accusing the government of focusing on "managing political perception."

While Australia is in recovery, Dr Chalmers said "this still feels like a recession" for the almost two million Australians "who still can't find a job or enough hours to support their loved ones."

"It's not a genuine recovery if Australian working families are left behind," he said. "It's not a real recovery if working Australians gain nothing in wages growth or job security."

"It's not a meaningful recovery if business investment and productivity only inch their way back from non-existent to anaemic. And it won't be a lasting recovery if we don't invest in the next generation of growth - in training and skills and advanced manufacturing and renewables."

Ahead of the next election, Labor has a signature policy to make childcare cheaper as well as announced policies in clean energy, industrial relations and a $15 billion loan scheme to manufacture products domestically.

The federal budget will be delivered on Tuesday May 11.

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This story 'Come clean': Labor calls for the cost of coronavirus first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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