Australians suffering financial hardship during the coronavirus crisis will be able to access up to $20,000 of their own superannuation and families have been urged to cancel school holiday travel as the Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepares to consider “draconian” lockdowns of some major cities.
Mr Morrison announced the new measures today in a $66 billion boost to previously announced stimulus measures in a desperate attempt to avoid a prolonged recession.
But the Treasurer warned Australians that the economic hit was expected to be massive and deeper than had been originally forecast as the government is forced to effectively shutdown many pubs and restaurants and universities to stop the spread of the virus.
People who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus shutdowns can expect a big boost to welfare benefits, which will increase by an extra $550 a fortnight.
Newstart recipients, Youth Allowance and parenting payments
will also secure an increased supplement for a period of six months.
“It will be available to sole traders, casual workers who meet the income test,” the Treasurer said.
“This means, anyone eligible for the maximum jobseeker payment will now receive more than $1100 a fortnight, effectively doubling the jobseeker allowance.”
The national cabinet will meet on Sunday night amid reports that some state governments are calling for schools to be shut down and even mulling limits on public transport.
Mr Morrison said he was disappointed to see the crowds at Bondi Beach, which has since been closed on public health grounds, but called it a wake-up call for the nation.
“What happened at Bondi Beach was not OK,” he said, adding that it “served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough.
“So the measures that we will be considering tonight mean that state premiers and chief ministers may have to take far more draconian measures to enforce social distancing, particularly in areas of outbreaks than might otherwise be the case.
The Prime Minister confirmed that people will be able to apply to access their super accounts through MyGov before July 1, 2020.
“So, if you are a sole trader or a casual and you have seen your income or your hours of work fall by 20 per cent or more as a result of the coronavirus, you will be able to get early access to your superannuation,” the Treasurer said.
“This initiative builds on provisions (to access super) on compassion grounds or hardship and up to $27 billion of superannuation can be put back into the pockets of hard-working Australians.
The Prime Minister also confirmed it “may not be physically possible to convene the Parliament over the next six months”.
“We are working through issues that would enable the Parliament to be reconvened on an emergency basis, to deal with any essential legislation that was required, particularly to address the coronavirus pandemic that is going around the world. So that is the priority for Parliament.”
The Prime Minister also confirmed that the cabinet had agreed on a ban on travel unless it was on compassionate grounds or work-related.
“All non-essential travel should be cancelled,” Mr Morrison said.
Labor’s treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said the Morrison Government’s consultation with Labor on the package had been minimal.
Mr Chalmers called on the Prime Minister to put Anthony Albanese in the national cabinet.
“We want to make a constructive, responsible and supportive contribution here. That’s been our approach all along,” he said.
“It’s not business as usual in the economy or in the community, and nor should it be business as usual in politics. This is an extraordinary time. It requires us all to work together.”
Mr Chalmers said he was concerned about the move to allow people to dip into their superannuation.
“If it was left up to us solely, we wouldn’t go down that path. We think that there are other ways to support people who are doing it tough. We think early access to superannuation should be a last resort, not a first port of call,” he said.
“We also think that there are real issues with encouraging people to divest from super when the market’s in the condition that it is now.
“It’s not good for them, it’s not good for the system more broadly, and we don’t want to create problems for people’s retirement down the track.
“We wouldn’t go down that path, but let’s see what they propose later on and we’ll make our views known.”