Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraAs NSW on Wednesday extended its lockdown for another month and the federal government shelled out more money, it was as if we were back in 2020 and Victoria’s long incarceration.
Thankfully, one big difference is that the Sydney outbreak, where the latest figure is 177 new locally acquired cases, hasn’t had (at least so far) a high death rate.
Some deaths are occurring, including a woman in her 30s, but the nursing homes now seem substantially protected, although there remains concern immunisation of aged care workers has a long way to go.
In its latest funding, the federal government has resisted calls for the reinstatement of JobKeeper, but there is help for both individuals and businesses.
Scott Morrison announced the maximum COVID disaster payment for workers who lose hours would rise from $600 to a maximum of $750 (the original JobKeeper level). There will also be $200 for people on welfare payments who lose more than eight hours work.
The Prime Minister argued JobKeeper did not have the flexibility now required.
JobKeeper was “not the right solution for the problems we have now,” he told his news conference (held at The Lodge, where he’s isolating, with reporters clutching umbrellas).
“What we are doing now is faster [paying the money direct to workers rather than through the employers], it’s more effective, it’s more targeted, it’s getting help where it is needed
far more quickly.
“We’re not dealing with a pandemic outbreak across
the whole country.
“What we need now is the focused effort on where the need is right now. And so it can be turned on and off to the extent that we have outbreaks.
“JobKeeper was a great scheme. But you don’t play last year’s grand final this year. You deal with this year’s challenges.”
The cost of boosting the disaster payment and the welfare top up will depend on how long the NSW lockdown lasts – and what other (if any) future lockdowns occur there or elsewhere.
Under an expanded package for businesses hit by the NSW restrictions, more businesses will be covered, with the maximum turnover threshold increased from $50 million to $250 million.
Those eligible – including not-for-profits – will be able to receive $1,500 to $100,000 a week (compared to $1500 to $10,000 previously).
The government says up to an extra 1,900 businesses employing about 300,000 people could benefit from the widening of eligibility.
The total cost of the NSW package – funded on a 50-50 split with the state – is $600 million a week, up from $500 million in the previous package.
Morrison said Commonwealth support to NSW amounted to $750 million a week.
There is also a new joint federal-state package (funded on a 50-50 basis) to give Victorian small and medium businesses extra support to recover from the recent lockdown. This will total an extra $400 million.
On the vaccine front the NSW government, having failed to get more Pfizer from other states, has decided to divert some Pfizer doses from regional areas to inoculate Year 12 students in the COVID hot spots.
These students will be able to return to face to face learning on August 16.
We’ve yet to see how the reallocation decision will go down in the regions.
Morrison was upbeat in predicting Australia’s economy would bounce back strongly from the lockdown, as it did after the earlier dive. It’s crystal ball territory. The September quarter is set to be negative. The December quarter result is unforeseeable.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said what happens in the December quarter, “will largely depend on how successful NSW is in getting on top of this virus.”
The government is trying to judge what it will take to keep the economy out of a second recession, which would likely kill many businesses that just managed to hold on through the earlier one.
A second recession would inflict a major hit on the government politically, just before an election that must be held by May.
A poll done by Utting Research in NSW on Monday underlines the message of other polls: COVID currently is taking serious skin off the PM. Only 37% were satisfied with the job he is doing handling the COVID crisis; 51% were dissatisfied.
Morrison said on Wednesday: “I would expect by Christmas we will be seeing a very different Australia to what we’re seeing now”.
He knows if we don’t, he could be in dire straits.