Unemployed Australians should head to the bush, the Morrison government says, as talk of austerity rises

Australians should be moving to the country to find jobs, the Morrison government says. (Tim Graham, Getty Images)
  • The Morrison government is telling unemployed Australians to head for the bush as it looks to cut JobSeeker on April 1.
  • Speaking on Friday, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham will say that job opportunities abound in mining and drilling, cleaning, domestic tourism and for carers.
  • However, Treasury and the RBA both expect job growth to stall until July as government support is pared back.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

If you’re looking for work then you better be looking to move as well, according to Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.

In a speech to be delivered on Friday to Adelaide’s Israeli Chamber of Commerce, Birmingham will lay out the law to JobSeeker recipients, indicating Australians are expected to take whatever opportunities they can.

“It is crucial that we help Australians to step up and fill the jobs with many employers who are actually crying out for workers,” he will say.

“There are employment opportunities right across the economy for these Australians to enter the workforce… we know also there are hundreds of thousands of Australians currently on JobSeeker who are single, have no children and largely have no impediments to work.”

The comments double down on rhetoric from the Morrison government that Australians should fill the gap left by temporary working visas and pick fruit in regional areas.

In that regard, the government’s enthusiasm for people to uproot their lives hasn’t managed to catch on so far. Australians have shown reluctance to work in remote areas for as little as $3 an hour and amid reports of “outrageous exploitation”.

But with 312,000 more Australians out of work than before the pandemic, the government is broadening their horizons for them beyond agriculture.

Birmingham will sound like a job site representative, suggesting there are “mining and drilling companies who can’t find workers for drill rigs, or parts of the construction industry”.

Again, that kind of manual labour may not be appropriate for every Australian who has fallen out of work. But Birmingham has other ideas too.

“Vacancies also exist in those tourism regions that have seen a resurgence in domestic tourism,” he’ll offer.

“Cleaning companies have openings that may previously have been filled by international workers, while demand continues to grow in the crucial care sectors.”

Helpfully, exploitation in those industries is less obvious than remote farm work.

However, it’s unlikely most on JobSeeker are living anywhere near a mine or a drill site, or they likely wouldn’t need a federal minister making more than $364,000 a year to tell them about a job there.

Laying the groundwork for spending cuts

In fact, it’s entirely improbable anyone would decide to take a job or not based on an elected official’s urging. But Birmingham already knows that.

Rather, the pitch that there are jobs out there and Australians need to simply look for them is a return to form for the Morrison government as it looks to start cutting spending.

The idea is an early justification for again slashing JobSeeker from April 1. Birmginham’s proposal essentially asks, ‘why pay a heightened unemployment benefit when some recipients could simply work?’ – sounding as if many don’t want to work another day in their lives.

While the government may raise it from its miserly pre-pandemic level of $40 a day, it won’t be anywhere near the $80 those eligible were given from last April.

But nonetheless it will be depended on by almost a million out of work Australians until at least the second half of this year, according to government forecasts.

In fact, as the JobKeeper subsidy is eliminated, Treasury and the RBA anticipate unemployment will remain stalled at its current rate of 6.6% for months yet before hitting 6% by Christmas and 5.5% by the end of the next financial year.

Those projections, the best the country has right now, directly contradicts the idea that Australians can simply move to find employment. While better than worse case estimates last year and while job ads might be up, the forecasts implicitly detail that there won’t be any substantial net growth of jobs until at least July.

Snapback to budget responsibility

It comes as the Treasury and federal government begin talking of a return to growth, a paring back of unprecedented fiscal stimulus, and a middle-term objective of paying back debt – a strategy which will demand austerity further down the track.

It’s why JobKeeper will be cut for 1.6 million Australian, why JobSeeker will be reduced, and why measures like tax cuts, tax incentives and JobMaker hiring credits for workers under 35 will be the last remnants of support retained. While useful, they won’t be enough to stem further job losses.

“Not every job has or can be saved, nor will every business be saved or be able to stay as it was,” Birmingham will say on Friday.

But have you considered moving?