Majority of Australians say extending jobkeeper and jobseeker would help coronavirus recovery

By Paul Karp

The majority of Australians believe extending jobkeeper and jobseeker would help the economy recover from Covid-19, but Coalition voters are the least likely to back continuing the $70bn wage subsidy and coronavirus supplement beyond September.

Those are the results of the May Australian National University poll, which found that, among remedies for the coronavirus economic ills, support was strongest for investing in vaccine research, reopening pubs, clubs and cafes, followed by extending the jobkeeper and jobseeker programs and lastly opening borders.

The poll of 3,219 Australians is the latest instalment of a longitudinal survey which found that the poorest 10% of households had actually seen their income increase during the Covid-19 contraction.

That result, from the April survey, was attributed to the $1,500 fortnightly jobkeeper wage subsidy and the doubling of the jobseeker unemployment benefit to $1,100 a fortnight.

With a Treasury review of jobseeker set to be concluded this month, the Morrison government faces an agonising choice about phasing out the payments, with calls from even within its own ranks to keep jobkeeper, at least in the hardest-hit industries, and some also opposed to dropping unemployment benefits back to $40 a day.

Among those polled, 57.6% said extending jobkeeper and jobseeker beyond the current six months would do “some” or “a great deal” to fix Australia’s economic problems, while 42.4% said it would do “only a little” or be “no help at all”.

Support for the jobkeeper and jobseeker payments was highest among those aged 18 to 24 (70.5%) and 25 to 34 (60.1%), with slimmer majorities among Gen X and baby boomer generations.

The policy recorded majority support among Labor voters (66.6%), Greens (70.2%), other parties (55.4%), and undecided voters (61%). Only Coalition voters were mostly opposed to the extension, with just 44.2% in favour.

Scott Morrison has repeatedly said that jobkeeper and coronavirus supplement payments are only intended to be “temporary medication”, although the government has flagged further economic support for the arts and tourism sectors.

Among the other Covid-19 policies, 75.6% backed increased spending to find a vaccine, 71.7% approved of opening pubs, clubs and cafes, but just 47.2% backed opening national borders to tourists and international students.

Report co-author Matthew Gray said – unlike support for jobkeeper and jobseeker – there was “no significant difference across the political divide for the level of support for finding a vaccine or treatment, or easing restrictions on pubs, clubs and cafes”.

The report found that people who were anxious were less likely to support liberalisation measures on borders and hospitality, but more likely to support spending on vaccines and labour market programs.

It concluded that this presented a “challenge for government” because physical distancing will be needed to keep infection rates low but in order to restart the economy “this concern and perceived risk may need to be reduced”.

The study also found little change for Australians’ support for key economic policies before and after the pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, 85% of Australians agreed that increasing spending on healthcare, education and housing would help fix the economy,” Gray said. “In May this figure was 82.1%.”

“The measure that actually gained support was cutting taxes – with 59.1% saying this would help the economy in May compared to 57.5% in January.”

Labor has repeatedly warned the government not to withdraw economic supports too soon, but the government has banked $60bn of savings from the smaller than expected jobkeeper program and focused instead on industry-specific measures such as its homebuilder construction subsidy.

Morrison has proposed achieving growth through skills reform, tax reform including business tax cuts, and industrial relations reforms.