Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed as speculation the suggestion his government is considering winding back its $130 billion JobKeeper program, as Australia seeks to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic sooner than expected.
But he’s kept open the option of making changes to the wage subsidy program to ensure financial support flows to the workers who need it most.
Conservative elements within the federal government and commentariat are pressuring Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to use a pre-planned June review of JobKeeper to cut back the program.
“We’re six weeks into a six-month program. And at this stage, the uncertainties about the global economy, let alone our own economy, are still very much there,” Mr Morrison said.
“It would be very premature, I think, to get into speculations.
“What people know is that there’s six months of an economic lifeline to the value of $130 billion. And that says to Australians that we will be there for you and we will be there for you to get Australians back into work.”
There are estimates that up to a million people have lost their job to the deadly pandemic.
A further five million Australians are receiving the $1500 fortnightly JobKeeper program, the first instalments of which started flowing last week.
The government has budgeted for the program to cover six million workers for six months.
Employers with an annual turnover of less than $1 billion that have experienced a 30 per cent fall in revenue since March 1 are eligible for the wage subsidy.
Companies with an annual turnover of more than $1 billion have to have a 50 per cent fall in revenue to be eligible for the scheme. Businesses subject to a major bank levy are ineligible.
When they announced JobKeeper, Mr Morrison and Mr Frydenberg expected Australia was facing the prospect of months of coronavirus-induced economic shutdowns.
National Cabinet on Friday agreed to a phased process to ease some of those restrictions, which states have already started to implement.
Even if businesses reopen, the government expects many would still suffer a hit to revenue of more than 30 per cent, meaning they are likely to continue needing JobKeeper support.
The tourism and university sectors are likely to face a protracted downturn, with the Prime Minister having foreshadowed Australia’s international border is likely to remain closed for at least the remainder of 2020.
But speaking on Monday, Mr Morrison said the economic burden on future generations, as a result of his government’s spending, remained in the forefront of his thinking.
“It’s not just today’s taxpayers, it’s tomorrow’s taxpayers as well,” he said.
“Our government will always be extremely prudent into not putting burdens on to future generations, let alone the current generation, in dealing with the challenges that we have today.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has implored Mr Morrison to invoke the spirit of Labor’s wartime prime ministers and use a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity the coronavirus crisis presents to reshape Australia’s economy.
Having supported the $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, Labor now wants the government to extend it, while also maintaining the temporary $550-a-fortnight boost to the JobSeeker unemployment benefit.
Government figures from the middle of last week showed 40 per cent of businesses to sign up for JobKeeper are sole traders, 39 per cent are companies, 15 per cent are trusts and 6 per cent are partnerships.
The majority of employers in the program are in NSW (252,207), followed by Victoria (197,987), Queensland (141,972), Western Australia (67,680), South Australia (43,465), Tasmania (12,332), the ACT (8976) and the Northern Territory (4021).