Pensioners and Newstart recipients could secure a one-off $500 cash splash to help protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus and a recession.
But the massive stimulus package will wipe out the modest forecast $5 billion surplus for 2020, ending the Liberal Party’s election campaign boast the budget is “back in black”.
Sky News reported on Wednesday that pensioners and Newstart recipients will secure $500 in coronavirus payments to kickstart the economy.
That’s about half of the $900 handout that then prime minister Kevin Rudd used to fight the global financial crisis and avoid a recession.
Asked on Wednesday if pensioners could expect a one-off cash splash, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was closely examining options for using the welfare system to deliver cash, and would announce more on Thursday.
“We’re still finalising some of those measures after what was a very lengthy meeting yesterday,” he said.
“Those who have been around this place for a long time will know that the Coalition actually supported stimulus back in the first round in response to the global financial crisis. And that’s exactly what we did.
“There were two tranches to that stimulus at that time. The first one acted and worked through the existing payment mechanisms, and that was able to be put through fairly quickly. The Coalition supported those measures at that time. These are measures that the government has been looking closely at.”
Mr Rudd has accused the government of hypocrisy because it has repeatedly rubbished his strategy of “go hard, go early and go households” during the GFC.
“In his belated response to the coronavirus crisis, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stated strategy to date seems clear. It’s that ‘he is not me’. Indeed, whenever he’s asked why he suddenly seems so interested in the dreaded ‘S’ word – stimulus – he protests ‘it’s not a Rudd stimulus’,” Mr Rudd said.
“Methinks he doth protest too much. I must confess I’m pleased about the distinction. That’s because I have no interest in being associated with Morrison’s tardy response to the public health and economic impact of the current crisis.”
The Prime Minister and Treasurer have previously flagged that they are reconsidering the deeming rate, which determines access to the pension and part-pension, in light of record low interest rates.
The stimulus package to be announced on Thursday is also expected to include significant funding for aged-care facilities caring for seniors, who are most at risk from the coronavirus.
Mr Morrison also said Australia would close its borders to travellers from Italy on Wednesday, extending the restrictions already in place for travellers from China, Iran, and South Korea.
The restrictions will remain until health authorities determine it is safe to lift them.
Australian citizens or permanent residents returning from those countries will be allowed into the country but will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Health Minister Greg Hunt also confirmed that pregnant mums, over-70s and cancer patients will be offered bulk-billed consultations over phone, video link or WhatsApp to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The first tranche of the government’s $2.4 billion health plan to tackle the worldwide COVID-19 crisis was announced on Wednesday morning. It came as the global death toll topped more than 4000 and amid a significant rise in confirmed cases in Australia.
There were six new cases in NSW overnight on Tuesday, and another four in Victoria. Most of the people who have tested positive in the past two days had recently returned from Europe or the US.
Mr Morrison said the plan would assist vulnerable people who might be concerned they were exhibiting symptoms.
It follows complaints of patients being charged up to $350 for coronavirus testing and “pop up” drive-through testing by GPs in car parks.
“This package is about preventing and treating coronavirus in the coming weeks,” Mr Morrison said.
“Australia isn’t immune, but with this $2.4 billion boost we’re as well prepared as any country in the world.
“Our medical experts have been preparing for an event like this for years and this is the next step up in Australia’s plan.”
The new Medicare payments for at-home care for coronavirus sufferers and vulnerable patients will begin on Friday and will be fully bulk-billed (free). They will allow medical, nursing and mental health medical staff to deliver services over the phone via video conference including via FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp.
Those eligible will include:
- People isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner;
- Those who meet the national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection after consultation with national or state hotlines, registered medical or nursing practitioners or COVID-19 trained health clinic triage staff;
- People aged over 70;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged over 50;
- Patients with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised;
- Parents with new babies;
- Pregnant women.