COVID-19 disaster support payment for Victorian workers

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces the support payments. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces the support payments. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The federal government has responded to the Victorian government's plea and is offering a temporary COVID-19 disaster payment of up to $500 for workers adversely affected by the state's extended lockdown.

The new national mechanism is designed as a demand driven program, which will apply to future lockdowns that run for more than a week.

A "national framework" of support will be for locations defined by the chief medical officer as a Commonwealth hotspot and where there are lockdowns imposed by state public health orders that extend for more than seven days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it would be $500 for people who usually work more than 20 hours in a week, and $325 for those who work fewer hours.

"That is a support payment which is not unlike the type of payments that we make in relation to other disasters," Mr Morrison told parliament.

"Whether that is bushfires or floods or cyclones, or the many other areas where the Commonwealth government provides that disaster relief.

"I see this very much as disaster relief for the people of Victoria. This is not something they have control about."

To be eligible for the temporary COVID-19 disaster payment, workers must have liquid assets below $10,000.

"We are talking about somebody getting through the next week. Who would normally be in an economic situation where every dollar counts," Mr Morrison said on Thursday.

Those wishing to apply may approach Centrelink from Monday.

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Victoria is now in the midst of the second week of a debilitating lockdown due to an outbreak of a virulent strain of COVID-19 and which now totals 63 positive cases. There were two new local coronavirus cases in the past day.

The states and territories have to agree to the offer of the temporary disaster payment. Just who will pay is expected to be discussed at national cabinet on Friday.

Victoria has an announced package of support for Victorian businesses struggling during the lockdown worth $500 million, but the state government wanted federal support for Victorian workers. Mr Morrison and acting Victorian Premier James Merlino spoke on Wednesday night, with Mr Merlino describing the conversation as "constructive".

"What I put to the acting premier last night was that we should split 50-50 both payments," Mr Morrison said.

"Go 50-50 on household and 50-50 on business. Alternatively, the states can agree that in these circumstances they will always provide the business support and we will always provide the household support."

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers has given initial support to the disaster payment, but says Labor wants to see the details.

"We welcome in principle that the government has finally after days and days of delay stepped in to do something for the workers and small businesses of Victoria," he said. "But this is a government which has great difficulty actually implementing policies that they've announced."

"We'll go through the details including the eligibility for this payment, we'll make your views known on that but what we want to see is support for Victorian workers and small businesses, flowing in the Victorian economy, as soon as possible."

Asked by Labor Leader Anthony Albanese why it "took him so long" to announce financial support for Victoria, the Prime Minister said he learned about a similar payment during his visit to New Zealand several days ago.

Greens leader and federal member for Melbourne Adam Bandt said the government's announcement was an "insult".

"$325 for someone working less than 20 hours is less than minimum wage, less than the average rent for a one bedroom place in Melbourne and below the poverty line," he tweeted. "Morrison's failures led Melbourne to this lockdown, and now he's leaving people in poverty."

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This story PM announces new temporary Covid disaster payment first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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