In the face of mounting pressure from state governments, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said JobKeeper would not return.
Morrison said JobKeeper was a program that was targeted at solving “last year’s problem” and that the current challenges were different.
“You’ll recall that when we put JobKeeper in place, it took four to six weeks in order for the system to be rolled out … [Right now] I don’t have six weeks,” Morrison told reporters on Wednesday.
Over half of Australia is currently in lockdown from state government decisions, and the federal government has faced renewed pressure from businesses, unions, and the opposition Labor Party to bring back the wage subsidy.
Robert Carling, a senior fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said the federal government should be wary of providing assistance that makes it easier for the states to implement lockdowns.
“[Those who push for JobKeeper] persist because it was very generous, and they want the benefits that a very generous scheme would provide,” Carling said. “And they persist because they think Morrison and Frydenberg [Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg] will buckle under pressure, which has happened plenty of times in the past.”
“I think the federal government should provide only the assistance it judges necessary and prudent, not whatever the states demand,” he said.
However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) called on the government to reinstate a “JobKeeper 2” system to protect jobs.
“Unions won JobKeeper in 2020 when the pandemic began, and it worked by keeping many workers tied to their places of employment, while also offering businesses a lifeline,” ACTU President Michele O’Neil said. “The premature ending of JobKeeper in March was a big mistake.”
However, Morrison said the new financial assistance scheme is “basically JobKeeper” through a different distribution method.
“[Current] payments are the same level of payment that was being provided in the December quarter last year of JobKeeper, exactly the same,” he said. “The only difference is they’re being paid by the Government direct, not through your employer.”
The consecutive lockdowns from each state have been described as a “knee jerk lockdown contest” by the Australian Industry Group.