The number of businesses and people relying on JobKeeper wage subsidies continues to decline sharply as Australia’s economy emerges from recession.
But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg concedes sectors like tourism, aviation and international education are still struggling and will need support once the pandemic-inspired scheme ends in March.
Mr Frydenberg released tax office figures showing around 520,000 firms and 2.13 million employees have left JobKeeper since the end of September.
As of December, 1.54 million people were supported by the program, down from 3.6 million recorded in the month of September.
“What these numbers show is a broad-based recovery in the Australian labour market much better than we expected, even through the pandemic last year,” he told ABC radio.
But deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said there needs to be a sense of realism about what’s happening in the economy.
“If there are parts of the economy where there is no way you could describe it as being back to normal, then to remove JobKeeper as planned … is going to see a whole lot of businesses go off the cliff and a whole lot of people lose their jobs,” he told reporters on Monday.
Still, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the pandemic had highlighted a vulnerability in the tertiary education sector’s business model and he expects universities to adapt like any other business.
“I think it’s always time for universities to consider their economic model,” he told News Corp.
“Other businesses are doing that, so why wouldn’t they?”
Australian universities say they lost $1.8 billion last year and are on track for a further $2 billion loss this year as a result of border closures that have locked out overseas students.
Mr Morrison wants universities to focus on collaborating with industry and establishing commercial partnerships to tackle the “big challenges” facing Australia, including on vaccines, energy and digital technologies.
JobKeeper registrations between the first phase (April to September) and second phase (October to December) were down in: retail trade (68 per cent), accommodation and food services (52 per cent), education and training (50 per cent), wholesale trade (71 per cent) and construction (48 per cent).
Mr Frydenberg said 785,000 jobs had been created in the past seven months, while the unemployment rate has dropped from 7.5 per cent in July to 6.6 per cent in December.
But ACTU secretary Sally McManus says the education, tourism and manufacturing sectors continue to be “smashed” by the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we say is JobKeeper should be extended for those businesses that are still affected by the coronavirus, through no fault of their own,” she told the ABC.
Ms McManus said the support should continue “for as long as the pandemic is with us”.