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Govt to accelerate COVID-19 economic recovery plan – Robertson

Today’s better-than-expected unemployment figures back the Government’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan, and show why it’s important to accelerate that plan under the mandate delivered at the election, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Data from Stats NZ today shows the unemployment rate was 5.3 per cent in the September quarter – well below the Treasury’s forecast of 9.8 per cent in the Budget, and below the 6.4 per cent forecast in the Pre-Election Update.

"The unemployment data today shows the Government’s decision to focus the COVID-19 recovery and rebuild plan on jobs is working. This is still a difficult time for many New Zealanders, and we are working hard alongside them to create new work and training opportunities," Robertson says.

"The new Government has a mandate from New Zealanders to accelerate our plan, and we’re getting on with the job, including by fast-tracking infrastructure investment through the RMA like the Northland water storage project announced last week.

"There will still be challenges thrown up by COVID-19. The world is facing a 1-in-100 year economic shock due to COVID-19, and New Zealand won’t be immune. New lockdowns across Europe, and record new COVID cases in other parts of the world are putting a strain on the global economy.

"In Australia, the unemployment rate is 6.9 per cent, in the US it’s 8.8 per cent and in Canada 10 per cent. The OECD average is 7.4 per cent. The world will continue to feel the ongoing impacts of the worst economic shock since the Great Depression, and we have a strong plan in place here in New Zealand to cushion the blow and invest in the recovery.

"We recognise that today’s employment statistics show that the economic impact of COVID-19 is falling disproportionately on women, Maori and Pacific peoples. I will be working closely with the Ministers in these areas to make sure there is an inclusive recovery and rebuild.

"Our economic plan invests in supporting people to retrain through free apprenticeships, connecting jobseekers with employers, supporting industries with female-dominated workforces, and a real focus on our rangatahi through initiatives like Mana in Mahi."

The lower-than-expected unemployment numbers follow other recent data showing that the underlying economy is stronger than expected earlier during the pandemic, including:

– Merchandise exports since February 1 higher than in 2019, and up 5 per cent from 2018

– Expansion in the manufacturing and services sectors in September

– Lower-than-expected numbers of people on benefits, with 22,790 benefit cancellations during the September quarter due to people entering work – up 29 per cent from a year ago

– Consumer and business confidence both improving in October

"Back in May, the Treasury forecast unemployment would hit 9.8 per cent or 268,000 people during the September quarter. The number today was 117,000 fewer unemployed than that. This shows the investments being made through the COVID Response and Recovery Fund are targeted at the right areas – creating jobs, investing in infrastructure and helping people retrain for new jobs," Robertson says.

"The Government has also provided certainty and stability with the COVID health response, despite constant calls to chop and change direction. The health response means New Zealand’s economy is one of the most open in the world due to strong testing and tracing systems and a stable plan for dealing with COVID."

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