Australian PM Relents on Pandemic Leave Payments After Pressure From State Leaders

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Writer
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.
July 17, 2022 Updated: July 17, 2022

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has relented in the face of pressure from state leaders to extend government-backed leave payments for individuals needing to isolate themselves after contracting COVID-19.

The move comes after the Labor government originally planned to allow the scheme to expire on June 30—now, it will be extended until September 30 at a cost of $780 million (US$530 million) to the budget, which the government had vowed to get under control.

Employees who test positive for the virus and need to isolate are eligible to receive a $750 payment. The cost of the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment scheme will be split 50-50 between the state and territory governments.

“I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after, and that no one is faced with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income and without being put in a situation that is very difficult,” Albanese told reporters on July 16.

“All of the states and territories, as well as the Commonwealth, understand that emergency payments are just that. They can’t continue forever given the fiscal constraints that are on governments at all levels, but that this is an appropriate measure going forward.”

Doctors Support Move

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr. Omar Korshid, welcomed the move.

“The payments should never have been removed. And I think this government is learning some new lessons as it gets its feet under the desk, and how important it is to stay in touch with the community, with the experts and others in the community,” he told reporters on July 16, while calling on the government not to listen to “bean counters and bureaucrats.”

Korshid also said state governments should support mask mandates to slow the spread of new variants of COVID-19, namely BA.4 and BA.5.

“If that’s the decision that’s necessary, then that’s the decision that premiers should make and should be supported by the Commonwealth government in doing that.”

The extension of the leave payment will heap more pressure on federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers to bring the budget under control after the previous government racked up tens of billions in debt at the height of the pandemic to finance schemes such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker—with the backing of the Labor Party while it was in opposition.

Further, Chalmers will likely face pressure in the coming months to extend the cut to the fuel excise tax (22 cents per litre) that was implemented to help ease the cost of living pressures—including rising inflation, interest rates, electricity costs, and petrol prices.

Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.