(Australian Associated Press)
National wage subsidies will not be reintroduced despite millions of workers losing pay cheques as coronavirus lockdowns sweep Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is adamant weekly disaster payments of between $375 and $600 will provide rapid support to people suffering hardship during outbreaks.
“We need to be able to turn this on and turn it off quite quickly and with the method we’ve chosen, we are able to do just that,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Labor, unions and business leaders have called for a more wide-ranging program similar to the successful JobKeeper scheme.
Mr Morrison said coronavirus support to encourage people to stay home during outbreaks was at the same level as JobKeeper between October and December.
“The only difference is they’re being paid by the government direct, not through your employer,” he said.
The prime minister said some payments were reaching people on the same day as applications were lodged, while JobKeeper took up to six weeks.
People in locked down areas of NSW, Victoria and South Australia can apply for the support which is based on how many hours of work were missed due to restrictions.
The Australian Council of Social Service estimates more than one million welfare recipients are not eligible.
ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the people on the lowest incomes in the country were being excluded from federal support.
“These are students, older women, single parents who have been hit hard by this pandemic again and again – how will they keep a roof over their heads or food on the table?” she said.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said lockdowns had shown the decision to dump JobKeeper was incredibly stupid.
Dr Chalmers said the federal government had made three attempts at trying to replace the program with changes to disaster payments.
“Each time they’ve come up with something which isn’t as good as JobKeeper at keeping people in work and providing an appropriate level of support,” he told Southern Cross Austereo.
The spectre of extended lockdowns looms across Australia’s biggest cities with infection numbers bouncing around in recent days.
NSW recorded 110 new cases in the past 24 hours, with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.
Victoria recorded 22 new local cases on Wednesday, while a new infection was reported in SA taking Adelaide’s cluster to six.
While one million doses of coronavirus vaccines were administered in the past week, Mr Morrison is under sustained pressure about the rollout’s pace.
Mr Morrison said the Delta strain was a big test for Australia but acknowledged the immunisation program had faced challenges.
“It’s tough and it will be tough in the weeks ahead as we continue to wrestle with the new strain of the virus and we adapt our responses to fight it,” he said.
He said he took responsibility for the rollout’s problems but stressed the focus was on fixing issues.