Labor accuses ScoMo, Frydenberg of picking fight with states in ending Covid-19 disaster payments

Ellen RansleyNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: Supplied

The Labor Party has accused the Commonwealth of “pulling the rug out” from underneath working Australians in an attempt to wage war with states refusing to commit to the national plan.

The swing comes off the back of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announcing on Wednesday that the Commonwealth Covid-19 disaster payments would be scaled back when states reach the 70 per cent double vaccination threshold, and would be scrapped once 80 per cent of the eligible population have had both doses.

The announcement means workers in Commonwealth-declared hotspots in NSW, Victoria and the ACT may lose income within a month.

Under the payment, eligible recipients have received $750 per week if they lost over 20 hours of work, $450 per week if they lost between eight and 20 hours and $200 per week for those on income support payments who lost over eight hours of work.

Mr Frydenberg said the program, which costs $1 billion a week and services about 1.5 million Australians, was an “unprecedented level of economic support”, and that there should never have been an expectation that it would continue indefinitely.

Josh Frydenberg Presser
Camera IconTreasurer Josh Frydenberg said there should have always been the expectation the ‘unprecedented’ levels of support could not continue past the 80 per cent vaccination rate. NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman Credit: News Corp Australia

“We need to learn to live with the virus, we can’t eliminate it,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“People have had enough (of lockdowns) … They’re at their wits end.

“They want their kids back at school, they want their businesses to reopen. They are getting the jab because … when they get the jab, restrictions will ease.

“That is what the state governments need to provide.”

Mr Frydenberg said the Commonwealth would continue to work with states to provide support to hard-hit industries, including tourism providers who are struggling with the lack of international visitors.

Mr Frydenberg insisted the ending of the payment was in line with the “best” financial and health advice and the plan agreed to by national cabinet.

But, Opposition Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the announcement was another example of “picking a fight” with those state leaders resistant to committing to the national plan.

“This announcement … is partly about picking a fight with those states,” Mr Chalmers said.

“Different premiers have expressed their concerns about the hospitals, about tracking and tracing, the vaccines, all the rest of us. I think Australians expect from us – state leaders and national leaders – is to try and work together.”

Mr Chalmers said the government had failed to act with urgency with the vaccine rollout and building purpose-built quarantine facilities, but was racing to cut off support payments.

“The economic support should match the economic conditions, and people are hurting now and will be hurting for the foreseeable future,” Mr Chalmers told ABC Darwin.

“We need to make sure that the government isn’t in a rush to pull the rug out from under workers and small businesses.”

Camera IconOnce states hit their 80 per cent double dose rates, more businesses can ramp up and give back hours to workers, the Commonwealth says NCA NewsWire / David Geraghty Credit: News Corp Australia

The automatic renewal of payments will now end when a state hits 70 per cent full vaccination, meaning workers could have to reapply each week to confirm they have lost the hours of work that make them eligible for the payments.

As soon as a state hits 80 per cent, the payments will phase down over a fortnight before they are scrapped entirely.

In the first week after the 80 per cent target is met, there will be a flat payment of $450 for those who have lost more than eight hours of work, while those on income support will receive $100.

In the second week, the payment will be brought into line with JobSeeker at $320 for the week for those who have lost more than eight hours of work, while the payment will end for those on income support.

If, after that, a worker is still without hours, they will be moved to unemployment payments.

The government will leave in place the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment – which provides support to Australians forced to quarantine or isolate if deemed a close contact – until June 30, 2022.

Originally published as Labor accuses ScoMo, Frydenberg of picking fight with states in ending Covid-19 disaster payments

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