GRACosway Weekly Wrap Up

Highlights

  • Australia’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surpassed 5,200, however Health Minister Greg Hunt said slowing rates of infections could indicate the early stages of “flattening the curve”.
  • The National Cabinet is scheduled to meet today to discuss arrangements for commercial and residential tenants.
  • The Government announced an extra $130 billion for the JobKeeper program, introducing further support for approximately half of Australia’s workforce.
  • Federal Parliament will return next Wednesday to consider the JobKeeper legislation.
  • Labor and the Greens are pressuring the Government to intervene in the regional media sector after News Corp suspended printing of 60 community titles amid falling advertising revenue.
  • Attorney-General Christian Porter announced changes to 103 of Australia’s existing 121 employee awards, enabling Australians to take up to two weeks of unpaid “pandemic leave”.
  • The Government has pledged to “guarantee the viability of private hospitals” after their revenues plummeted following the cancellation of elective surgeries.
  • The PM said Australia is a world leader in coronavirus testing, with over one per cent of the population tested for the virus.

$130 billion wage subsidy package

On Monday afternoon, the Federal Government revealed a $130 billion wage subsidy package in response to coronavirus, bringing its total support so far to more than $200 billion. The Government estimates that six million workers will be eligible to receive the new JobKeeper payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer. Eligible businesses that have seen a significant downturn in revenue can use the payment to subsidise employee wages for those still working or pass it on directly to those who have been stood down but remain on the payroll. The PM described the package as a “lifeline” and said it is necessary to stop the economic ruin caused by the virus. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned Australians would be paying back debt for “a long time to come”, while economists said the stimulus was necessary to avoid a depression. This week saw over 450,000 businesses register for the six-month JobKeeper scheme, which will be delivered through the Australian Tax Office from the first week of May. In order to pass the necessary legislation, Speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith has recalled Federal Parliament for next Wednesday with a quorum of MPs.

Early signs of flattening the curve

The National Cabinet this week imposed further social distancing measures, including restrictions on public gatherings of more than two people, with an exception for members of the same household. The measures are being enforced to varying degrees at a state and territory level. The PM said the Government’s “strong advice” is for Australians to stay home except when shopping for food, seeking medical care, exercise, and for work and education. Minister for Health Greg Hunt said slowing rates of infection could indicate social distancing measures are having an effect, and Australia could now be in the early stages of “flattening the curve”. However, experts have warned Australians should not become complacent, particularly as cases of community transmission in Victoria jumped significantly over the last few days.

Free childcare for essential workers

On Thursday, the PM and Education Minister Dan Tehan announced free child care for parents who continue working during the coronavirus pandemic. The Government will pay half of the operating costs of Australia’s childcare and early learning centres based on enrolment rates in the fortnight leading into 2 March. The package follows calls from the industry for a government bailout due to low attendance rates. To qualify for funding, childcare centres must remain open and cannot charge families for care. The new system will be subject to review after one month, and an extension will be considered by the Government after three months. The PM said the plan will support families and ensure childcare centres will be able to keep their doors open. Eligible early learning and childcare operators will also have access to the JobKeeper payment.

Airlines seek support

According to media reports, the Federal Government is likely to refuse Virgin Australia’s request for a $1.4 billion bail-out loan, as the airline draws on cash reserves during the coronavirus crisis. When asked about a potential bail-out, the Prime Minister told reporters he would only point to decisions the Government has previously made on a sector-wide basis. Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann said that while the Government is committed to having two domestic airlines, it does not plan to take a stake in an airline. Meanwhile, Qantas is under investigation for standing down a worker in February who raised concerns over cleaning a recently-returned plane from China.

Looking ahead

Federal Parliament will return for one day of sitting on Wednesday 8 April.

Additional support

GRACosway is now offering twice-daily COVID-19 updates to keep abreast of political and policy developments. Please contact mail@gracosway.com.au for further information on this service.

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