Daniel Andrews and Scott Morrison are trading barbs again, as Victoria accuses the federal government of “double standards” and only being “the Prime Minister of New South Wales”.
Mr Morrison’s office responded by slamming Victoria’s “politicised approach” to “issue decrees by media”.
It comes as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed Sydney’s lockdown is costing the nation $700 million a week.
The federal and NSW governments on Tuesday afternoon announced plans to shovel billions of dollars into Sydney to stave off a cratering of the city’s economy, with households and businesses to benefit from new payments, eviction moratoriums and tax relief as the lockdown drags on.
Economists and business groups praised the rapid cash injection, estimated at half a billion dollars a week, but the Victorian government eviscerated Mr Morrison as a “disgrace” for an alleged “double standard” in how the federal government responds to lockdowns.
“Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government,” a state government spokesperson told The New Daily on Tuesday evening.
“It shouldn’t take a crisis in Sydney for the Prime Minister to take action.”
Mr Frydenberg, speaking to ABC’s 7.30 program, said people where sick of Mr Andrews’ “whingeing”.
Sydney lockdown support prompts outrage
The COVID disaster payment was established during Victoria’s last lockdowns, but the PM said more was needed because Sydney’s outbreak “worsened well beyond what we have recently seen in other states”.
But the Victorian Labor government was livid.
In a statement shared with media just before the 6pm TV news, a spokesperson claimed the state had to “beg” for support in its May lockdown, and alleged a “double standard” in how the federal government treated NSW and Victoria.
During that outbreak, the federal government only grudgingly offered further Commonwealth financial aid, raising concerns it could ‘incentivise’ further lockdowns.
The Victorian spokesperson stressed they thought NSW “deserve every possible support”, but claimed “[Mr Morrison’s] job is not to be the Prime Minister for NSW”.
“We had to shame the federal government into doing their job and providing income support for Victorian workers when we battled the Delta strain earlier this year. Their position at the time was a disgrace,” the statement read.
In a subsequent response, a spokesperson for the PM’s office noted Victoria and NSW got “exactly the same” support for the first two weeks, after which Melbourne exited lockdown.
“As the pandemic has evolved and as the situation in NSW has gone beyond those two weeks, the Commonwealth’s support has also evolved. If Victoria were to go into another extended lockdown, it would receive the same support as is being offered to NSW,” the spokesperson told TND.
“The NSW government has worked constructively with the Commonwealth to support their households and businesses while the Victorian government’s politicised approach has unfortunately been to issue decrees by media instead of picking up the phone to find solutions as a partnership.”
‘Not enough’, Labor claims
Despite calls from opposition politicians and unions, the government chose not to revive the JobKeeper wage subsidy, even though the NSW government had considered their own state-specific version.
Instead, the business payments will be contingent on companies not sacking any workers, and keeping the same headcount.
Labor said that wasn’t enough, with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers claiming the government “failed” to ensure workers would be kept on.
“What Scott Morrison has announced is not enough to give businesses any security and does not provide support for those who have already lost their job,” he said in a statement.
“Labor is also concerned the 40 per cent subsidy may not be sufficient incentive for some employers to keep workers on and avoid stand-downs.”
Asked about this at his Kirribilli House press conference, Mr Morrison said he believed businesses would have less reason to let workers go, because individuals were receiving their $600 payments directly from the government – not as a wage subsidy through the business first, as in JobKeeper.
He also noted the federal government was giving a larger cashflow boost than in recent lockdowns.
Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus was critical of the payment level.
“They have radically cut the support given to workers in 2021 compared to 2020. Weekly payments have been slashed by up to $150 per week, there is no guarantee jobs will be kept and those who have already lost their jobs will get nothing,” she said.
“Instead of guaranteeing workers weekly pay and a connection to their jobs, workers now have to navigate Centrelink and hope their employers keep them on.”
Faster is better
But Chris Richardson, partner at Deloitte Access Economics, said the “most precious” thing was to bolster businesses and households by getting money out fast.
“People will spend time saying this part or that part isn’t perfect, and that’s true, but you’re missing the basic point that it needs to be fast,” he told The New Daily.
“In a crisis that’s fast moving, to try and make things perfect is a mistake. The smart play is to choose speed.
“It won’t be perfect in matching people who’ve lost income to those who get payments. But I think it’s the right thing.”
Innes Willox, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, told the ABC the package was “very positive”.
“We can always say there should have been more, it could have been done differently but the fact that there is direct support for employees, there is direct support the business of all sizes,” he said.
“But if this goes much longer, obviously we are going to need even more support from government on top of what they have already provided.”
Mr Willox called for the government to “rework” any lockdown assistance every two weeks of the shutdown period.