Weekly Wrap Up
- Federal Parliament will return on 24 August. MPs and Senators from Victoria will be required to isolate for 14 days upon arrival into the ACT.
- Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the Government will ease criteria for JobKeeper, adding an additional $15 billion to the scheme. Businesses will only need to show that their GST turnover had fallen over one quarter, instead of multiple, while workers will qualify if they were employed on July 1, rather than March 1.
- The Reserve Bank has held interest rates at 0.25 per cent. Governor Philip Lowe said Australia’s economic outlook is “highly uncertain”, but noted Australia’s economic downturn has not been as severe as previously expected.
- PM Scott Morrison has ruled out speculation the Australian Government will ban social-media app TikTok, telling the Aspen Security Forum there is nothing suggesting the app compromises security interests.
- Virgin Australia will cut at least a third of its workforce and cease operations of its Tigerair brand.
- The Australian Federal Police will be given new powers following the unveiling of the $1.6 billion 2020 Cyber Security Strategy revealed by the PM on Thursday.
- The Australian embassy in Beirut suffered significant damage in a chemical explosion which left at least 100 dead, including one Australian, and injured over 4000 people. The Australian Government provided $2 million in aid to Lebanon since the blast.
- Australia and Papua New Guinea will negotiate a bilateral security treaty under a new Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership.
On Sunday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a State of Disaster, announcing a move to Stage 4 Stay-at-Home restrictions for metropolitan Melbourne until mid-September. Mr Andrews said the state could not accept “days and days of hundreds of cases and more and more death”. From Sunday evening, residents in Melbourne have been unable to travel further than 5km from their home for the purposes of shopping, while only one person per household is permitted to go food shopping per day. In addition, residents are now only permitted one hour of outdoor exercise per day, and are subject to a curfew between 8pm-5am. Students across the State have returned to remote and flexible learning. Regional Victoria has also returned to Stage 3 Stay-at-Home restrictions.
On Monday, Mr Andrews announced further restrictions on workplaces, declaring the default for workplaces in metropolitan Melbourne is that they are closed, unless the workplace is part of a permitted industry as set out in a list released by the Government. Those who can continue working onsite are now required to get a permit to work. Mr Andrews also ordered the shutdown of Victorian childcare centres for children of “non-permitted” workers, leading the Federal Government to announce a support package for Melbourne providers located in areas facing Stage 4 restrictions. If permitted workers require childcare, they must apply for an additional permit.
PM offers pandemic payment
PM Scott Morrison expressed his sympathy and solidarity with Victoria, and voiced his support for the Victorian Government’s move to Stage 4 restrictions. In response to reports of people continuing to work while sick, the PM announced a $1500 pandemic leave disaster payment for those in Victoria who need to self-isolate and have used up their sick leave or who have none. The payment can be accessed more than once if necessary. In grim news for the economy, the Prime Minister on Thursday revealed early figures from Treasury indicate extended lockdown in Victoria will reduce gross domestic product by between $7 billion and $9 billion in the September quarter, while national unemployment is expected to peak at 10 per cent, rather than the forecast 9.25 per cent. The PM described the numbers as “a heavy blow”.
Elsewhere, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk this week declared the Queensland border will close to NSW and the ACT from this Saturday, saying the temporary “inconvenience” to business would be better than a mass outbreak in Queensland.
Following a meeting of the National Cabinet on Friday, PM Scott Morrison praised the productive working environment the format has provided to leaders throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The PM announced the National Cabinet agreed the current cap on in-bound international flights will continue over the medium term to ensure there is no further strain on quarantine arrangements. The National Cabinet also agreed the National Freight Code will be implemented in order to establish consistency between states. National Cabinet also received an update from the Skills Commissioner, to talk through the JobTrainer Scheme. National Cabinet also discussed Aged Care, and ensuring other jurisdictions learn from what has unfolded in Victoria, including through an audit of preparedness. Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly provided National Cabinet with an update of vaccine progress. The PM revealed that Australia is well positioned to manufacture and supply a potential vaccine.
Next week, Parliaments will sit in Queensland, WA, and the ACT. National Cabinet will next meet Friday 21 August.