News Coronavirus ‘Not the Australian way’: Pressure on PM over pandemic leave
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‘Not the Australian way’: Pressure on PM over pandemic leave

Emergency meeting of national cabinet over COVID spread

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NSW has joined the battle to reinstate paid pandemic leave – with Premier Dominic Perrottet saying he will “almost certainly” push the Prime Minister at Monday’s snap national cabinet meeting.

The federal government came under further pressure on Friday to reinstate pandemic leave payments for workers compelled to isolate due to illness.

Mr Albanese maintains the decision to end the $750 seven-day handouts was “inherited” from the previous government, although he has conceded it will affect workers.

“The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case,” he said on Friday.

“Good employers are recognising people are continuing to work from home while they have COVID and receiving payments through that.

“The [pandemic leave] payments were put in place by the former government with an end date, a decision they made at the time.”

However, he said “we’ll give consideration to all of these issues” at Monday’s meeting.

Mr Perrottet became the latest state and territory leader to take aim at the federal government on Friday.

“There is not one time in the pandemic that we have set and left policies in place,” he said.

He said any decision needed to consider financial, health, and humanitarian viewpoints.

“I think it is unfair that when the state imposes public health orders on people that restrict their liberty and capacity to work, for the government not to provide financial support,” he said.

In another rebuke of the federal government, NSW has also expanded availability for rapid antigen tests to people from vulnerable communities. It will give 10 free rapid tests to eligible people every three months – a decision that came after the federal program of free tests for concession card-holders ended on June 30.

“We know they work, we know that they make a real difference and are a crucial part of everyone taking that responsibility as we move through this next phase of COVID,” Mr Perrottet said.

“[The virus] is not going away and that means we have to keep taking personal responsibility.”

COVID surge spurs mask plea

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Australia’s COVID cases are spiralling as new Omicron subvariants spread, with more than 43,000 reported infections on Friday. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures revealed on Thursday that 776,000 Australians worked fewer hours in June due to illness – while other data showed sick leave in June was 35 per cent above the long-term national seasonal trend.

Workers who catch COVID must still isolate for at least seven days, while others lose work caring for someone who is ill.

Mr Albanese has so far withstood pressure from state leaders, unions, doctors and federal Labor backbenchers after axing the payments.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff has also called for them to return. Victoria, Queensland, the ACT and South Australia have all urged a reconsideration of the decision.

Federal Labor MP Mike Freelander broke ranks on Thursday, urging the Mr Albanese to extend the support measures, with fellow backbencher Michelle Ananda-Rajah following suit. Both are doctors.

Also on Friday, ACTU secretary Sally McManus said she hoped Mr Albanese would back down.

“When you have a whole lot of people sick, the economy is sick … You can’t on the one hand say people have to stay at home and on the other hand say you are not going to get paid and you are left with nothing,” she told the Nine Network.

“It is abandoning people and not the Australian way, we have to fix it.”

The issue will be top of the agenda when state and territory leaders meet Mr Albanese at national cabinet on Monday. He said he was confident leaders would be able to work together constructively.

“Everyone has been worried about the pandemic over the last couple of years,” he said.

“We’ll deal with these issues. We’ll deal with them in a practical way.”

Health Minister Mark Butler – who has warned of “millions of COVID cases” in coming weeks – aid the government was monitoring the situation. But he indicated large payouts needed to end following the withdrawal of pandemic mandates.

“There’s no end to the list of worthy, important things we could be spending the money on in the health portfolio, but there is an end to the money,” he said.

“The Australian community understands, and indeed wants, the country to move to a new phase in confronting this pandemic.”

While the government has said the end date of June 30 was decided by the Coalition when it was in office, the opposition has accused Labor of hypocrisy for not choosing to extend the payments.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the government needed to be consistent with its advice.

“They need to hold themselves to the same type of standard they held the previous government to and be transparent with what the medical advice is,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News on Friday.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said clarity was needed on why the pandemic leave measures were not extended.

“I would like the government to advise Australians of … why they thought it was a good idea now to remove these particular supports at the same time they’re telling Australians we’re about to be hit by another very serious wave of the virus,” she told ABC radio.

Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data

Victoria: 10,584 cases, 17 deaths, 749 in hospital with 35 in ICU

NSW: 12,228 cases, 14 deaths, 2027 in hospital with 60 in ICU

Tasmania: 1727 cases, one death, 133 in hospital with six in ICU

Queensland: 6336 cases, 20 deaths, 907 in hospital with 14 in ICU

South Australia: 4453 cases, six deaths, 266 in hospital with eight in ICU

Western Australia: 6458 cases, eight deaths, 333 in hospital with 16 in ICU

ACT: 1208 cases, no deaths, 135 in hospital with four in ICU

Northern Territory: 494 cases, no deaths, 52 in hospital with one in ICU

-with AAP