Weekly Wrap Up
- The Federal Government has established a National COVID-19 Coordination Commission to be led by former mining executive Neville Power.
- Further social distancing restrictions and a ban on overseas travel came into effect earlier in the week and National Cabinet is reportedly discussing additional measures today.
- PM Scott Morrison attended an emergency virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit on Thursday night where he called for further funding to develop a coronavirus vaccine and urged leaders to keep borders open to ensure medical supplies can be traded during the crisis.
- Non-urgent elective surgeries in Australia’s public hospitals have been suspended to free up hospital beds in preparation for the expected influx of coronavirus patients.
- South Australian Senator Rex Patrick has become the fourth federal politician to test positive for the virus.
- NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has announced a ban on cruise ship passengers disembarking in the State.
- Consumer confidence has fallen to its lowest level since Australia’s 1990 recession.
Border closures and new social distancing measures
The National Cabinet met several times this week to agree on further social distancing restrictions, including closures for businesses in the hospitality, entertainment, beauty and recreation industries. Australia has now recorded more than 3,000 cases of coronavirus, with 13 deaths nation-wide. The PM urged Australians to stay at home where possible, and expressed disappointment at members of the community who had disregarded government direction and congregated in public places last weekend. Despite previously adopting a bipartisan approach to the pandemic, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has criticised the speed of the Government’s response, calling for stricter shut downs immediately; a fast-tracked third stimulus package; wage subsidies; and a more expansive social welfare system. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has foreshadowed stage three restrictions, suggesting they will likely occur “in different parts of the country at different times”.
This week also saw individual states and territories including South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory close their borders to all non-essential travel, requiring interstate visitors to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. There are exemptions for essential services workers, food and commercial supply chains, and emergency services.
Parliament passes stimulus legislation
Over the weekend, the Government announced a second stimulus package worth $66 billion, aimed at small to medium businesses and employees who have been stood down in the economic fallout from coronavirus. Sunday’s announcement followed from the Government’s first stimulus package, worth $16.7 billion. The necessary legislation for the two stimulus packages was passed by a scaled-back Federal Parliament on Monday. The Prime Minister told parliament that for many people, 2020 “will be the toughest year of our lives”. The Parliament also passed legislation to ensure ongoing funding and operation of the Government in light of the 2020-21 Federal Budget being postponed until 6 October. A series of supply bills granted Minister for Finance Matthias Cormann an unprecedented advance of $40 billion to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and other “unforeseen events” from July 1, without the need to obtain parliamentary approval. Federal Parliament has been adjourned until 11 August.
Stricter social distancing measures announced by the PM this week resulted in thousands of Australians losing their jobs, leading to long queues outside Centrelink offices across the country. The situation was exacerbated by the crash of the MyGov website, which was flooded by thousands of users attempting to access welfare payments. Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert initially pointed to a malware attack as the reason for the crash, however later acknowledged the website experienced approximately 95,000 users at once, whilst it only has bandwidth for 55,000.
National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC)
The PM this week announced the establishment of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) to anticipate and solve economic and social problems arising from the coronavirus, and better coordinate the efforts within and between the public and private sectors. The Commission will include prominent Australians from the public and private sectors and will be led by former Fortescue Metals chief executive Neville Power. Other members of the board include Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Phil Gaetjens, and Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, parliaments across Australia have chosen to adjourn until later in the year. We will provide further updates on sitting dates as these become available.