Prime Minister Scott Morrison is likely to rubber-stamp more emergency assistance on Monday for NSW businesses and households affected by the Sydney lockdown.
With Sydney potentially facing weeks more under lockdown, and Premier Gladys Berejiklian not ruling out even harsher shutdown measures with new cases expected to exceed 100 on Monday, NSW could be in for the longest restrictions since Victoria’s second wave.
It is forcing the Commonwealth government to act, with Treasury officials putting “a number of options” to the PM, according to senior federal sources – but it won’t be a revival of JobKeeper, despite calls from Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Canberra has already extended $500 weekly COVID disaster payments to those who have lost work, and removed a liquid assets test that previously applied.
It’s expected Mr Morrison – himself in lockdown in Sydney – might announce further help as soon as Monday.
The New Daily has been told this could include more support for affected businesses in the event of a “protracted lockdown”, as well as broadening support for individuals and households.
No firm decision had been reached as of Sunday afternoon.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet admitted the state government would “have to do more”, and planned another business support package “in coming days”, including rent relief.
“We are currently working on another package to complement what we’ve already put there and continue constructive discussions with the Commonwealth government about any support that they might be able to offer our businesses,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
“The challenge is there’s no JobKeeper available.”
In a previous national cabinet decision, the Commonwealth agreed to fund individual supports, and state governments to fund business support, during long lockdowns.
Mr Perrottet said he hoped the federal government might reconsider that stance and instead look at a JobKeeper-style program for businesses.
Calls for NSW lockdown aid
It is unclear what the extra Commonwealth support could look like, but social advocates are urging the federal government to reinstate the COVID supplement to the JobSeeker welfare payment, which applied through the pandemic’s early stages.
“They must at least reinstitute the COVID supplement at its full rate of $550 per fortnight, including the removal of waiting periods and partner income tests,” Kristin O’Connell, spokesperson for the Antipoverty Centre, told TND.
“People are living precariously. They are in debt from their landlords not giving relief at the end of the last eviction moratorium, rents have skyrocketed at the low end of the market, and the cheap goods we rely on to survive have flown off supermarket shelves.”
AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver estimated the Sydney lockdown would cost $1 billion a week.
“However, if as appears increasingly likely the Sydney lockdown is extended much beyond the current three weeks, it will progressively cause more damage,” Dr Oliver said.
“Another four weeks will see the economic cost blow out to $7 billion and take longer to recover from.”
Labor wants JobKeeper revival
Mr Albanese, speaking on the ABC’s Insiders, called for a wage subsidy to be reinstated for Sydney workers.
“If not JobKeeper, something very similar,” he said.
“This is a direct result of government inaction. The failure to vaccinate enough people, the failure to have national quarantine facilities. So the federal government has a responsibility to step up here.”
Should JobKeeper be reinstated?
— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) July 10, 2021
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last week ruled out a return of JobKeeper, and federal sources indicated there had been no change of thinking on Sunday.
The government has pointed out that the COVID disaster payments, at a maximum $500 weekly, are at the same level as JobKeeper in its final stage.
Mr Albanese called on the government to come up with “another idea that would perform a similar function of keeping people in employment”.
“The government can’t just sit back and wipe its hands of responsibility in Scott Morrison’s usual style,” he said.
Mr Morrison is also likely to offer up further psychological support for people in lockdowns.
The Prime Minister on Sunday was looking at options that could be employed if the lockdown drags on.