Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted that COVID-19 assistance packages could be wound back sooner than originally planned at his press conference on Monday afternoon.
There were reports circulating in the media on Monday that Mr Morrison has instigated a review of the system with the aim of winding backing both the JobKeeper and JobSeeker packages earlier than their original September expiry date.
Mr Morrison suggested if the unemployment rate dropped sooner than anticipated he would look at winding back the scheme.
“The thing that matters is getting Australian businesses back open,” Mr Morrison said. “Because when that happens, there will be no need for those levels of income support.
“Success for our economy is when we’re able to get ourselves out of the situation which requires such enormous taxpayer support.
“If people are in jobs, they don’t need income support. And that’s my task. That’s the state’s task. That’s all of our task – to support business.”
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the initial pandemic response showed the best of politics, but now the economic response needed to be met with fairness and security for the most vulnerable.
“The prime minister’s talk of a ‘snap back’ to what came before, foreshadows a return to the Liberals’ traditional agenda,” Mr Albanese said.
“Marketing slogans won’t ease the ongoing burden of this pandemic, or hasten recovery.”
Mr Albanese suggested the government should use this time of crisis to boost public services, instead of cutting them.
“We could start by restoring public sector jobs in areas such as Centrelink, Medicare and Veterans Affairs,” Mr Albanese said. “The contracting out of essential public services is not in the national interest and must stop.
“It’s time to put human beings and human dignity back into human services.”
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) chief executive Cassandra Goldie said that the community would strongly oppose any attempt to make early cuts to income support measures.
“People cannot afford these huge cuts to income support, proposed by the government, which would take us back to the old, brutal rate of Newstart at just $40 a day,” Ms Goldie said.
“Let’s not forget that on the old Newstart rate, people living on such little money were showering once a week to cut their energy bill, and 90 per cent regularly skipped meals, as shown by our survey last year.
“The government says it has our backs but going ahead with these severe cuts to income support would be the opposite.
“The government must keep the new JobSeeker payment in place until our income support system is fixed, so that nobody is forced to live below the poverty line.”
The poverty line in Australia, as defined by the OECD, is $500 per week for a single person with no children.
“Cutting income from those who need it the most would trap people in poverty long term and only make our economy go further backwards,” Ms Goldie said.
“We must make sure those of us without paid work can cover the basics – food, housing, electricity. This will mean people can make the most of job opportunities as the economy rebuilds.”
Have you been relying on either the JobKeeper or JobSeeker assistance packages during the pandemic? Do you think the payments should continue to offer people security through a difficult time?
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