Melburnians are waking up to their first day without a curfew under a gradual move towards freedom in the next phase of coronavirus rules.
But there’s no sign of relief for an under-pressure Victorian government.
Questions remain over the exact nature of the abrupt resignation by the state’s health minister, as Premier Daniel Andrews revealed he had only received a text message from Jenny Mikakos.
Acknowledging “I haven’t spoken to her”, Mr Andrews said on Sunday that Ms Mikakos had tried to phone him on Saturday, but he was on another call.
She then sent him a text, by which time she had sent her official resignation from Parliament to the Premier’s chief of staff.
Ms Mikakos also tweeted a long statement claiming her integrity was “sought to be undermined” and that she did “not believe my actions led to” the state’s virus outbreak.
It came less than a day after the Premier said Ms Mikakos was “accountable for the program” of hotel quarantine.
The Premier praised the “incredibly hard-working” Ms Mikakos on Sunday as Victoria logged another 16 COVID cases and two deaths and he outlined the long-awaited first stage of the easing of lockdowns.
His daily press conference was dominated by discussion and clarification of the new rule system – including the abolition of the 9pm curfew and the reopening of primary schools – but of most political intrigue were his guarded responses to questions about Ms Mikakos’s shock resignation.
“No one is happy to see someone who is an incredibly hard-working member of the team go,” Mr Andrews said.
“When you make a decision you can’t serve in the cabinet, you can’t serve in the cabinet. You need to tender your resignation. That’s what happened. I wish her well.”
— Jenny Mikakos MP #StayHomeSaveLives (@JennyMikakos) September 25, 2020
Political heat continues despite restrictions easing
The 9pm curfew, subject of much debate after both health authorities and police said they did not ask for it to be instituted, will be scrapped from Monday.
Despite the change, a court challenge to the curfew – lodged by Liberal Party member Michelle Loielo – will reportedly still go ahead from Monday, according to the Herald Sun newspaper.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as well as his Victorian senior ministers in Josh Frydenberg and Greg Hunt, welcomed the lockdown rollback on Sunday, but called for the state’s timetable to be accelerated.
“We note that at similar case levels NSW was fundamentally open while remaining COVID-safe due to a world-class contact tracing facility,” the federal trio said.
“As many epidemiologists have encouraged, we would support Victoria in reviewing the trigger of five and zero cases with regards to the third and last steps.”
They said they were “deeply concerned about the mental health impacts of a prolonged lockdown on Melbourne residents”.
“It will be important that more be done in the weeks ahead to safely ease more restrictions,” they said.
Mr Morrison said the federal government’s JobKeeper program would direct nearly $17 billion to Victorians in the next six months, and would “continue to support Victorians during these challenging times”.
JobKeeper changes to be challenged
On Monday, the wage subsidy scheme will be split from a fortnightly $1500 flat rate for all workers, into a two-tier scheme offering $1200 for full-time workers and $750 for part-time workers.
It will further wind back to $1000 and $650 from March.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said his party would next week move a Senate motion to disallow the changes.
“We are not in a position in Australia at the moment to be pushed off that financial cliff, especially in Melbourne,” the Member for Melbourne said on the ABC’s Insiders program.
"We will move in the Senate to stop the cuts to JobKeeper. We are not in a position in Australia at the moment to be pushed off that financial cliff, especially in Melbourne," says @AdamBandt.#Insiders #auspol pic.twitter.com/AD15o0GTnT
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) September 26, 2020
“Around the country, 12 people looking for every one job that is available at the moment and the social distancing restrictions are continuing to stay in force and that stops a lot of businesses getting back on their feet.”
Mr Bandt said it was “too early” to change the scheme. He also shared analysis showing extending JobKeeper at its current rate until March 2021 would be cheaper than just one year of the government’s proposed tax cuts, which may be fast tracked into October’s federal budget.
Labor senator Katy Gallagher hinted the Opposition wouldn’t back the Greens’ motion, saying the government had the power to change the rules without parliamentary approval.
“The Treasurer has the power to prevent these cuts from happening now,” she said.
“The Labor Party is not into parliamentary stunts that would endanger crucial programs like JobKeeper and JobSeeker … rather than take part in some Greens motion, how about the government take responsibility and use the powers the Parliament has given them?”