Victoria’s acting premier and treasurer have unleashed an extraordinary spray at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, claiming the federal government “refused” to help during the state’s latest COVID lockdown.
“This idea we are working hand in glove, when they have never put their hand in their pocket, is nothing short of a disgrace,” state treasurer Tim Pallas said.
“It is about time the Commonwealth stop with the words, stop with the empty gestures, the rallying speeches, with nothing behind them.”
Acting Premier James Merlino says the Victorian govt was denied financial assistance from the Federal Government. Treasurer Pallas: "It would be really good if the self-styled party of the workers actually did some work for working people." #Auspol @SBSNews #MelbourneLockdown pic.twitter.com/cWvwph5sNX
— Naveen Razik 📰 (@naveenjrazik) May 30, 2021
With Victoria now three days into a seven-day snap lockdown, pressure has built on federal and state governments to provide urgent support for workers and businesses required to shut down.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and federal Greens called on the Morrison government to introduce a ‘JobKeeper 2.0’ payment. On Sunday, Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, announced the state government would pledge $250 million for affected businesses.
Restaurants, cafes, event suppliers, accommodation and non-essential retailers will get access to $2500 payments, while businesses holding liquor licenses and food certificates may be eligible for $3500 grants.
Events operators will have access to a slice of a $20 million funding pool.
“This is particularly devastating for Victorian businesses. We will deliver a business support package to help them get through this difficult time,” Mr Merlino said.
But even as the state government announced the financial help, the acting premier had stinging words for the federal government, who he claimed had knocked back requests to offer its own tranche of Victorian assistance.
“We needed Canberra to come to the table and I am very sorry to say that they have refused to do that. We asked multiple times for the federal government to support workers during this period, and the unrelenting answer has been no,” Mr Merlino said.
“Victorian workers deserve more from the federal government and I am beyond disappointment that the answer from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer has been no.”
“Given that JobKeeper is no longer around, I cannot understand why the federal government is not supporting Victorian businesses.”
Mr Pallas had even harsher words.
“They like making speeches. They are not a tangible partner. We need them to step up to the plate. Workers need them, the community needs them,” he said.
“I am angry and I am disappointed. While all the language talks about a partnership, it delivers nothing in real terms for the people who need it most.”
The New Daily has contacted the Prime Minister and Treasurer’s offices for comment. The federal and Victorian governments regularly exchanged harsh words during the state’s second wave lockdown in 2020, but Mr Morrison’s government has been reluctant to criticise during the latest restrictions.
Earlier on Sunday, federal trade minister Dan Tehan told the ABC’s Insiders that Victorians affected by lockdowns “should go to Centrelink and see if you are eligible for a payment.”
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) May 29, 2021
Mr Tehan defended the federal government for not immediately providing extra financial support for Victoria, saying he hoped “this will be a short, seven-day lockdown.” He also noted Victoria had received the most amount of JobKeeper payments, and added “we will continue to have discussions” with the state government.
The federal government has pledged 160 defence force personnel to assist in the state government’s lockdown efforts, and 130,000 extra COVID vaccines over coming weeks.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese said on Sunday “there should be economic support for Victorian businesses that are suffering.”
Mr Pallas said the estimated cost of the seven-day lockdown was $700 million, and claimed the federal government had “forgotten” Victorians. He said he had spoken to federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg several times in recent days, proposing a federal government welfare payment or to match Victoria’s pledge “dollar for dollar”, but without success.
“Even up to the point where I said, ‘even make it a piecemeal one, so we can pretend you are doing something tangible’,” Mr Pallas said.
“But the Commonwealth’s view is if these are short-term circuit breakers, then these states should pay for them. Well, we are paying. We are paying very substantially.”
“All of the empathy means nothing unless your words are matched by tangible support.”
Mr Merlino accused the federal government of “leaving the field”.
“It is just so disappointing we have a Federal Government that is picking and choosing when they support Victorians and Victorian businesses,” he said.
“That is disgraceful … it should make every Victorian angry.”