The federal government has rejected a proposal by the Victorian Labor government for a new wage subsidy for those affected by the state’s fourth lockdown, arguing that it is currently providing financial support to Victorian businesses and families.
“We will continue to support Victoria to get Victoria open and do everything we can to ensure Victoria does not close itself again,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on May 30.
“The Commonwealth Government has put $45 billion directly into Victoria to support. And we will continue to support Victoria through the pandemic leave payment, through the emergency cash assistance, through the social security system supported by JobSeeker.”
While JobKeeker ended in March, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has urged the federal government to reintroduce the government support payment for the week—and for the commonwealth to match the Victorian support package dollar for dollar, or put forward an alternative.
This comes as the Victorian Labor government announced a $250 million business support package for Victorians affected by the lockdown, which is expected to cost the Victorian economy $700 million. It had previously been estimated to cost $1 billion.
“We asked multiple times for the federal government to support workers during this period and the unrelenting answer has been no,” Pallas said.
“Victorian workers deserve more from the federal government, and I am beyond disappointed that the answer from the Prime Minister and the [federal] Treasurer has been no.”
But, the PM said that the short lockdowns in Queensland during March, and in Western Australia during April, saw the two-state governments assume “responsibilities” for the effects of the lockdowns.
The Morrison government believes Victorian leaders must take primary responsibility for the lockdown response, reported The Age.
In response, Pallas said while Victoria’s lockdown was longer than those that occurred in Queensland and Western Australia, he said this was “the first post-JobKeeper lockdown that’s gone on for any period of time so there is no support whatsoever for working people.”
Federal Budget ‘Calibrated’ Accordingly
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended the federal government’s economic support provided to all Australian states during the pandemic.
“The economic impact of the Victorian outbreak is not insignificant but the budget just over two weeks ago did anticipate further outbreaks would occur,” he said in a Facebook post on May 30.
“Our budget measures were calibrated accordingly, with the budget providing an additional $41 billion of COVID-related economic support.
“Should extended lockdowns be avoided and outbreaks contained the national economy can continue its strong recovery.”
Frydenberg said $1500 pandemic leave disaster payments were available, as well as “loss carry-back” for businesses, adding that direct economic support delivered to Victoria was “around three times what has been delivered by the state government.”
Moreover, industry groups, such as the Australian Retailers Association, have welcomed the Victorian Labor government’s $250 million package but urged both the state and federal governments to introduce broader subsidy schemes, especially for affected small businesses and casual workers.
“The safety net of JobKeeper no longer exists and there are numerous small businesses that are at breaking point and face an uncertain future,” Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra told the Australian Financial Review.
“The virus remains an ongoing threat—outbreaks can still occur and future state-imposed lockdowns are a possibility. With that being the case, we need to ensure government lifelines remain in place.”
Victoria has recorded five new locally acquired cases of the CCP virus, taking the state’s latest outbreak to 45 infections.
Acting Premier James Merlino said no decision has been made on whether the state’s seven-day lockdown will end on Thursday evening as planned.
AAP contributed to this report.