I welcome the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Economic Response Package. Today I voted in favour of it in Parliament.

What began as a health crisis has now become an economic crisis. Today, we needed a significant economic stimulus package to protect Australian businesses, keep people in work, and ensure that the vulnerable can survive the difficult months before us.

In the past 24 hours I have analysed the economic response package legislation put forward by the Government to see if it will achieve these things for our Indi communities and for Australia. I believe this package goes a long way towards meeting the urgent and immense needs of the nation.

I fully welcome the temporary increase to the Jobseeker payment (formerly Newstart), the two direct cash payments to households of $750, support for small businesses, and apprentices and trainees.

But I am concerned that this package, while urgent and overwhelmingly well-designed, does not go far enough.

This moment calls on all parliamentarians to work constructively to develop solutions to the urgent challenges our nation faces. There are five ways in which the Government’s response to the pandemic crisis could be improved in the coming days and weeks.

First, we must do more to ensure people can keep work, and find work. The payments to small businesses announced today by the Government will be a lifeline for so many. But there is currently no guarantee that businesses will use the additional money to retain their staff. Keeping people in jobs should be the overwhelming focus right now.

Second, we need to find ways to get the money out the door faster. The $550 coronavirus supplement won’t begin until April 27. The small business cashflow boost won’t begin until April 28. Pensioners won’t see any boost in income because of deeming rate changes until May 1.

This means millions of people must survive the next five or six weeks, most of them in circumstances of a complete shut-down, with no support. In Indi, many people affected by bushfires are already at breaking point. Many affected business and people have had almost zero income since January. The end of April, the start of May – this is too long to wait. We must move faster.

Third, the next stimulus package must contain support for renters. Many people will struggle to make rent payments over the next few months. Yet evicting people, causing them to move in with friends or family, or even sleep rough, would be to add to our public health crisis as well as being as a humanitarian failure. The next stimulus must ensure that no person should be evicted over the coming months.

Fourth, the next stimulus package should involve a drastic acceleration of bushfire relief payments. It has been clear for months now that the Government’s bushfire relief response has been bogged down in bureaucracy and the money is not getting out the door to where it is needed.

Today the government introduced bills for unconditional cash transfers to all small businesses in Australia, with no paperwork. Let’s contrast this with the requirements for obtaining bushfire support. These people and businesses are starting well behind scratch in this COVID-19 crisis. The burden of paperwork and difficult eligibility criteria for our bushfire-affected communities must stop.

Fifth, the Commonwealth should clarify exemptions on any potential cross-border movement restrictions applying to border communities like Albury-Wodonga, and ensure that business can continue as much as is safe to do so.

As the States announce restrictions on the movement of people across borders, both State and Commonwealth levels of Government must collaborate to ensure that movements necessary for health and critical services can continue to occur.

Finally, I implore the National Cabinet to continue to speak with a united and co-ordinated voice. This moment is rife with uncertainty and the National Cabinet has been a reassuring voice in recent days.

When Parliament rises this week, we do not know when we will return. For the foreseeable future, the National Cabinet will have to provide the national leadership that we need. It must fulfil that duty.


Australian Government – Treasury

Economic response to coronavirus

Website https://treasury.gov.au/coronavirus

Australian Government – Health

Coronavirus alerts

Website https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert

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