Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia’s first recession in nearly 30 years is heartache for the country.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed on Wednesday he had been advised the nation was in recession, as official figures showed a 0.3 per cent drop in growth in the March quarter.
“It’s a lot of heartache for Australians, that’s what it is,” Mr Morrison told Brisbane radio 4BC when asked how he would describe the recession.
“At the end of the day, these aren’t numbers these are about people.
“People have lost jobs and our job now is to win that battle for jobs.”
The June quarter figures, to be released in September, are expected to reflect the downturn caused by the lockdown Australia entered to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two consecutive quarters of negative growth define a recession.
Unions and business say the recession shows the need for further government support beyond the six months envisioned when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the government needed a comprehensive plan to create jobs and lift Australia out of the COVID-19 crisis.
The union movement has proposed an eight-point plan which includes lifting wages and living standards, investing in public and community services, infrastructure spending and investment in education and training.
“The uncertainty created by the government’s refusal to both broaden who is receiving JobKeeper today and extend its life beyond September is causing additional hardship and reducing consumer confidence,” she said.
The Morrison government on Thursday announced a $688 million HomeBuilder package, offering Australians $25,000 grants for new homes and renovations in a bid to have a ‘tradie-led recovery’ for the economy.
Mr Frydenberg told reporters the government would announce changes to JobKeeper in July, alongside a budget update which had initially been scheduled for June.
Ai Group chief Innes Willox said the growth figure showed governments were playing an important role in countering the downturn, but more was needed.
“This result points to the importance of programs like JobKeeper in reducing job losses and assisting in keeping employees linked to their workplaces,” he said.
“The further support set to flow over the next few months will reinforce a rebound in activity and reduce but likely not eliminate the need for additional measures after JobKeeper ends in September.”
Annual growth eased to 1.4 per cent – the slowest rate since September 2008, when Australia was plunged into the global financial crisis.
The average contraction among OECD nations is six times greater than what Australia has experienced.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the slowdown had been coming before the virus hit, but had been made worse by the necessary shutdowns to reduce the spread.
“Much of what we’re seeing today is an acceleration of challenges that have been in the economy for some time; weak growth, a stagnant private economy, sluggish consumption, declining business and dwelling investment, and weak wages growth,” he said.
JobKeeper should be fixed more urgently than July, support should be given to build social and public housing and a jobs plan was needed, he said.
“Having introduced the support for the economy too narrowly and too slowly, Australians can’t afford the government to withdraw that support too quickly or too bluntly.”