Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Morrison and Berejiklian governments have unveiled a joint support package for businesses and workers, as the Sydney lockdown is set to extend to and probably well beyond a fourth week.
But the assistance has set off a row between the Andrews and Morrison governments, with Victoria resentful about its earlier treatment and the federal government accusing it of taking a politicised approach compared with NSW’s constructive one.
As the level of the outbreak continues high in NSW – 89 new cases in the community announced on Tuesday – a support payment will be available for businesses, which is set to cost about $500 million a week. This cost will be equally shared between the federal and NSW governments.
For individuals, from week four of a lockdown in a hot spot declared by the Commonwealth, the COVID disaster payment will rise from $500 to $600 if a person has lost 20 or more hours of work a week. The amount will go from $325 to $375 if the hours lost are between eight and 20.
The payment will also be available to people in NSW outside Commonwealth-declared hotspots where they meet the eligibility criteria – but in these cases the NSW government will fund the cost.
Businesses eligible for assistance will be those with an annual turnover between $75,000 and $50 million, which can demonstrate a 30% decline in turnover, compared with an equivalent two week period in 2019.
Businesses will receive payments ranging from $1,500 and $10,000 a week, based on their payroll, with non-employing businesses such as sole traders receiving $1000 a week.
Up to 500,000 entities are expected to be eligible, which employ more than three million people. The assistance will be available to not-for-profit entities. Those receiving the payment will have to maintain their workforces at current levels.
Scott Morrison, speaking at a news conference with NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and state treasurer Dominic Perrottet, said the aid would go as long as the lockdown required.
The federal government – under earlier criticism for being more anxious to help NSW than it had been to assist Victoria, when it was slow with an announcement – emphasised that the new payments would apply to other states if they were to be in similar circumstances.
But the Victorian government reacted sharply.
“Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
“It shouldn’t take a crisis in Sydney for the Prime Minister to take action but we are seeing the same double standard time and time again. His job is not to be the Prime Minister for NSW.
“We had to shame the federal government into doing their job and providing income support for Victorian workers when we battled the Delta strain earlier this year. Their position at the time was a disgrace.
“If they had bothered to think about this at the time and work with Victoria, they’d already have had a practical framework in place when NSW went into lockdown and more people would have got the support they need earlier,” the statement said.
The Morrison government hit back, contrasting what it described as different attitudes by Victoria and NSW.
“The NSW government has worked constructively with the Commonwealth to support their households and businesses while the Victorian government’s politicised approach has unfortunately been to issue decrees by media instead of picking up the phone to find solutions as a partnership,” a federal spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said Victorian received the same support for its two week circuit breaker lockdown as had NSW for its first two weeks.
“As the pandemic has evolved and as the situation in NSW has gone beyond those two weeks, the Commonwealth’s support has also evolved. If Victoria were to go into another extended lockdown, it would receive the same support as is being offered to NSW.”
The spokesperson said that during the recent Victorian lockdown, the Commonwealth offered to share all costs with the state. “Victoria declined, and asked for the Commonwealth to handle income support while they would support businesses.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the ABC on Tuesday night, people were sick of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews’ “whingeing”.
Under the package for NSW, the Commonwealth is providing some business tax relief and the NSW government is giving some payroll relief and protection against evictions.
The package also contains $17.35 million for mental health support. Among organisations to receive funding will be headspace and Kids Helpline.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) on Tuesday released new advice on AstraZeneca in light of the Sydney outbreak.
It said in the context of an outbreak where the supply of Pfizer was constrained, people under 60 who don’t have immediate access to Pfizer should “reassess the benefits to them and their contacts from being vaccinated with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca, versus the rare risk of a serious side effect”.
It also said in outbreak situations those who had received a first AZ shot more than four weeks ago should get their second dose as soon as possible, rather than waiting the preferred 12 weeks.