Discussion paper

COVID-19 has served as a major disruptor to Australia’s economy. In response, millions of Australians have either entered unemployment, lost significant hours at work, or remained tethered to their employer only through the JobKeeper payment.

The crisis has been an unwelcome and tragic imposition on Australians' health, Australia’s way of life, and the Australian economy. At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of those workers who have often been undervalued in Australian society. Workers in retail, health services, public transport and cleaning, in particular, are finding themselves at the frontline of this economic crisis, performing essential tasks that keep Australia running even during various stages of 'lockdown.'

While many Australian workers have found financial support in the form of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, many frontline workers upon which all Australians have relied on during this crisis have continued working without any government assistance. Often, these workers fall into lower income categories, with many earning under the Australian median annual wage of $48,360 a year before tax.

This paper makes the case that future tranches of fiscal stimulus should target this cohort of Australian workers – not only as a way of paying gratitude to their service during an unprecedented crisis, but as a productive form of economic stimulus. The proposals put forward in this are aimed at stimulating aggregate demand early in the new financial year, just as many key areas of the Australian economy are escaping 'hibernation.'

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