Scott Morrison has ignored calls for urgent assistance for Victorian workers affected by the latest COVID lockdown, saying the federal government has already sent billions in help and that Queensland or Western Australia didn’t need extra support during their latest restrictions.
It came after an extraordinary spray unleashed by Victoria’s acting premier and treasurer, who called the Prime Minister and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg “disgraceful”.
“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 four days into a seven-day lockdown, pressure has built on federal and state governments to provide urgent support for workers and businesses required to shut down.
On Sunday, Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino announced the state government would pledge $250 million for affected businesses.
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 Mr Frydenberg several times in recent days, proposing a federal government welfare payment or to match Victoria’s pledge, but without success.
“But the Commonwealth’s view is if these are short-term circuit breakers, then these states should pay for them,” Mr Pallas said.
Victoria has had enough lockdown help: Morrison
The Australian Council of Trade Unions and federal Greens called on the Morrison government to introduce a ‘JobKeeper 2.0’ payment, but Mr Morrison indicated he wasn’t planning on extending special help to Victoria.
Speaking in New Zealand, as he arrived for talks with Kiwi PM Jacinda Ardern, Mr Morrison noted other state governments hadn’t been given special help after having “decided” to go into lockdown.
In contrast to Mr Pallas claiming Canberra had “never put their hand in their pocket”, Mr Morrison pointed out the Commonwealth had already sent $45 billion “directly into Victoria to support”.
“We will continue to support Victoria through the pandemic leave payment, through the emergency cash assistance, through the social security system supported by JobSeeker,” the PM said.
“I note that the Queensland government and the Western Australian governments, when they were in similar circumstances, took on those responsibilities, having decided to go into those lockdowns, and they took on those responsibilities, and I commend them for that.”
‘Go to Centrelink’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also said Canberra had already chipped in.
“We welcome the Victorian support. We think it’s appropriate, under the circumstances. It builds on the $45 billion which the Commonwealth has provided to Victoria, far and away the highest per capita economic support to any state or territory,” Mr Hunt said.
“We think that the Victorian response today is fair and appropriate and acknowledge and thank them for that.”
Mr Frydenberg, in a Facebook post, also noted “further federal support was not required” during Queensland or WA’s lockdowns.
Those restrictions were shorter than Victoria’s current week-long lockdown.
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”.
The federal government has pledged 160 defence force personnel to assist in the state government’s lockdown efforts, and 130,000 extra COVID-19 vaccines over coming weeks.
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese said on Sunday “there should be economic support for Victorian businesses that are suffering”.
Mr Merlino accused the federal government of “leaving the field”.
“It is just so disappointing we have a federal fovernment that is picking and choosing when they support Victorians and Victorian businesses,” he said.
“That is disgraceful … it should make every Victorian angry.”