Government shows courage with $130b JobKeeper package

The question of whether the spending packages this time will be enough to save Australia from a sharp rise in unemployment and a deep recession will not be definitely answered for months until official data comes in.

But the Herald today published exclusive real-time private data which should reassure Mr Morrison that the first round of his stimulus announced three weeks ago is already working.

It suggests that the $750 cheques, which reached about 6.5 million pensioners and welfare recipients last week, are having the desired effect of boosting consumer spending.

Discretionary spending had fallen to 26 per cent below normal levels at the end of March as a result of the social distancing measures and the closures of restaurants, gyms and so on imposed to fight the spread of infection.

But the real-time data shows that in the first week of this month, as the $5 billion worth of cheques started to hit bank accounts, discretionary spending rose and was only 16 per cent below normal.

Significantly the big increases in spending were with retailers where pensioners and benefit recipients are most likely to shop.

It also appears that some of the increase was spent on alcohol and gambling, which could have negative social effects. But being aware of the spending in real time will at least enable policy and decision makers to address the ramifications in a timely fashion.

It is hard to know whether the JobKeeper program passed by Parliament will be as effective as a stimulus since it is targeted at a slightly higher-income group who, in theory, may save the cash rather than spend it.

On the other hand, the flat rate of $1500 a fortnight is generous and could even be a pay rise for many low-wage and part-time workers who make less than that. A lot of family budgets will desperately need that cash and they will have confidence to spend knowing the subsidy guarantees their job for at least six months.

The ALP Opposition has endorsed the JobKeeper package but it has complained that it excludes some


categories of employers, such as local governments, and it questioned why some of the most vulnerable workers are excluded, especially one million casuals with less than 12 months in their current job, and foreign workers on temporary visas.

Political ideology appears to be on ice for now and the Herald hopes it remains that way – at least for the duration of this crisis. The good news is that, for now, the government’s targeted efforts appear to be delivering much needed support for the economy.

  • Herald editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers. To have it delivered to your inbox, please sign up here.

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