Thursday, January 14, 2021

Queensland considers mining camps for quarantining travellers with four new cases recorded

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would raise the matter with the Federal Government when national cabinet meets next Friday.

"We are going to look at all options and one of those options is to look at some of the mining camps that we have in Queensland," she said.

"Now, for a start, some of these mining camps are four-star. "My understanding is most of them, the ones we're looking at, have balconies so there's a lot of fresh air for guests and also, too, there's the capacity for all of the staff and the cleaners and everyone to also be based on those sites as well.

"I think this is a rational option and if we are dealing with a strain which is up to 70 per cent more infectious, I think we need to be really serious about it."

There are now 27 active cases in the state after more than 13,000 tests were conducted in the past 24 hours.

None of the positive cases were at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, which was evacuated and shut down yesterday after a spread of the UK variant on its seventh floor.

A major investigation is underway into what caused the cluster that's so far infected four returned travellers at the hotel, as well as a hotel cleaner and her partner.

More than 220 staff at the hotel are being tested and isolated along with 147 former guests, figures revised down since yesterday.

Furthermore, 406 contacts of the cleaner and her partner have been contacted, tested and isolated. "So far none of them have tested positive," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Dr Young said the virus started at the Hotel Grand Chancellor when a man and his partner arrived from the UK on December 30

Shearer shortage due to COVID restrictions sparks 'unofficial auction' for workers

Shearing Contractors Association of Australia secretary Jason Letchford said some producers were paying shearers premiums of between 20 and 50 per cent per sheep in an "unofficial auction system".

"The [minimum] pay rate is about $3.24 to shear a standard or flock sheep in Australia," he said.

"But we've seen the marketplace burst in the last three or four months, with smaller farming enterprises going directly to shearers paying somewhere between $4 and even more than $5 a head to shear those sheep.

"This is the first time we've seen such a broad, wholesale wavering from the award."

Normally hundreds of New Zealand shearers travel to Australia to help with shearing.

However, Dubbo farmer and Australian Wool Innovation national manager of wool harvesting training and development Craig French said between international border restrictions and the sheep herd rebuilding in the wake of the drought the industry was facing a skills crisis.

"There's no doubt that we're in crisis with shearer numbers … right across the country," he said. "It's not just due to the lack of New Zealand staff, there is definitely increased demand for contracting teams."

Job vacancies surge to pre-COVID levels, as Australian share market loses momentum

The number of job vacancies in Australia surged to 254,000 in the November quarter, in the latest sign that Australia's economy is recovering quickly from COVID-19.

It was a big jump (+23.4pc) since the last quarter (August), according to new data released by the Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Online shopping booms during COVID-19

As social distancing rules and fear kept people away from the shops, online sales have taken off and many analysts say a lot of consumers will not return in-store.

The data also showed the number of advertised opportunities was 12 per cent higher than where it was over the previous year.

ABS head of Labour Statistics Bjorn Jarvis said it was also "higher than the pre-COVID level in February" and this "reflected the pace of recovery in labour demand in the second half of the year and labour shortages in some industries".

The latest figures show the biggest gains came in the sectors hardest hit during the pandemic: arts and recreation (+233pc), accommodation and food (+66pc) and retail trade (+39pc).

While public sector opportunities lifted sharply (+16.9pc), private sector vacancies saw an even bigger rise (+24.2pc).

The ABS obtained these figures by tracking the number of jobs currently advertised, via phone surveys and online electronic collection.

The surge offers hope that the job market can continue its surprisingly quick recovery, which saw the unemployment rate drop to 6.8 per cent in November (from a July peak of 7.5 per cent).

It was a major improvement over the May quarter result, which showed job vacancies plunging to 129,200 at the height of the pandemic.

"Today’s data adds to the evidence that the employment recovery should continue into early 2021 at least," said ANZ senior economist Catherine Birch.

"A much quicker labour market recovery poses a question about the right balance of policy settings.

"We think the RBA will be clear about the answer — keep the stimulus flowing.

"Also, it's worth keeping in mind that some component of the very strong vacancy numbers would reflect skills mismatches, which may become more significant as long as international borders remain closed, curtailing skilled migration.

"This component of job vacancies is not helpful in reducing unemployment or improving growth and productivity."

An economy with secure work and a pay rise? Economists say we're painfully close

A big boost in government spending, or a mining boom, can lead to greater economic output or growth. The key though, as always, is whether or not it's sustainable.

If it is, the economy begins to produce wonderful characteristics like ongoing employment and higher wage growth.

Right now, the building blocks for meaningful economic growth are in place: higher consumer spending and demand for labour.

Achieving the next step is the particularly challenging bit, but much of the hard work has been done.

While our worst health fears were never realised, everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at the economy.

In fact, in total, the Government expects to rack up roughly $1 trillion in debt to pay for income subsidies like JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other policies to keep businesses and families afloat.

Tracking how this stimulus has been and is being spent is crucial to understanding how the economy may fare this year.

Because of the inherent uncertainty that comes with managing a pandemic, many households chose to pay down debt and save some of the government cash handouts, rather than spend. The logic was simple: Who knows what the next months will bring, so I think I'll squirrel the money away for a rainy day.

The thriftiness seemed to peak in April.

Consumer spending came roaring back in May, but a 112-day lockdown in Melbourne, which ended in late October, snuffed that out.

Now, there's not only evidence shoppers are loosening their purse strings, but that businesses are also hiring.

That's a recipe for further spending by both shoppers and businesses.

Spending is back up

Late last year shoppers took full advantage of Black Friday sales and the release of the iPhone 12.

Business turnover was strong enough to encourage bosses to take on more staff. ANZ Job Ads surged 13 per cent in November and further 9 per cent in December.

Earlier this week, retail spending showed promise, again.

Figures released by the Bureau of Statistics on Monday show national retail sales jumped 7.1 per cent in November as Melbourne shoppers came out of lockdown to splurge.

Strong internet sales during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday online sales period also helped boost overall spending.

Shoppers spent the most in Queensland, up 4.5 per cent, followed by Tasmania, up 3.4 per cent, and the Australian Capital Territory, up 2.5 per cent. Spending in New South Wales lifted 2.3 per cent.

And again, private sector spending data released on Monday backed this up. According to the Commonwealth Bank, credit and debit card spending in the week to January 8 rose by 13 per cent on a year ago.

Electronics are popular, as are household items and clothing and footwear.

It is up to businesses now

The gross domestic product or GDP equation is simple: Consumption plus business investment plus government spending and net exports… make it up.

All components, bar business investment, are coming through for the economy right now.

Businesses small and large have the option now, if they can, to hire more workers and grow their firms.

Economist Angela Jackson sums it up this way:

"The Government has certainly put a lot on the table to encourage business investment. And if [businesses] don't [spend] this year, you kind of think, well, are they ever going to do it?"

The question is, she says, "Are the conditions there for businesses to invest, and do businesses have the confidence to do that?"

The economic boon and you

As always, it's meaningless to talk about economic growth unless it affects your hip pocket directly or Australians, more broadly, benefit from it in some way.

Obvious benefits include higher pay for those on low incomes and more secure work for those who are underemployed.

Industrial relations expert John Buchanan argues while the recent lift in consumer spending — which makes up the vast bulk of economic growth — is encouraging, there's still a lot of slack in the labour market.

The current underemployment rate is still hovering around 10 per cent.

The next few months will be crucial

Coronavirus, and the economic threats that come with it, aren't going away anytime soon.

Government subsidies need to remain in place, consumers need the confidence to keep spending, businesses will need to continue expanding and hiring, and China will need to keep sucking up Australia's raw materials.

As it stands, JobKeeper and JobSeeker will end in March, and hard COVID-19 lockdowns remain a constant threat for business — making longer term investment plans challenging to say the least.

But is there ever a time when achieving sustainable economic growth is easy? Of course not.

Australia's management of the coronavirus has left us with a better-than-expected economic platform on which to launch — thanks to a once-in-a-generation politically palatable government spending spree.

Taking a few business risks now, however scary, could lead to stronger sustainable economic growth — something many Australians have been longing for now for years.




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