There are renewed calls for the federal government to provide emergency economic support to Melbourne workers and businesses hit by the extension of the city’s coronavirus lockdown.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says he will speak with Victoria’s Treasurer Tim Pallas to consider the state’s request for additional financial assistance – but is making no promises.
Victoria’s acting Premier James Merlino has demanded the federal government step-up, as workers and businesses brace for the financial impact of the extended lockdown.
“I do hope that the Commonwealth will swiftly confirm that they will step up and provide that support,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“If they do not, I will be raising this directly at national cabinet on Friday.”
The Victorian government on Tuesday announced an extra $209 million towards its support package to help business through the latest shutdown.
This adds to a $250 million package announced on Sunday.
The Victorian government has been highly critical of the federal government’s reluctance to provide additional, targeted support.
“Our position in relation to the first week of the lockdown was based on the view that with a short lockdown a state has the capacity to respond as they announced,” federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters on Wednesday.
“I will speak to Tim Pallas later today and consider his request.”
The Melbourne shutdown marks the first extended lockdown without the federal government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy, which ended in March.
Mr Merlino said the ball was firmly in the federal government’s court.
“Victorian businesses, Victorian workers are demanding that they respond,” he said.
“That is what the [Victorian] Treasurer is advocating for and what I am advocating for, and I am hopeful of a positive outcome.”
The Australian Council of Social Services has called for the introduction of immediate “pandemic disaster recovery payments” to people in areas and industries affected by lockdowns who have lost work.
Victorian Council of Social Services chief executive Emma King said the time for delay and debate was over.
“People are again missing shifts, losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills,” she said.
“The federal government must step up and provide emergency support to Victoria.”
The federal government currently provides pandemic leave disaster payments of $1,500 for people who test positive to COVID-19 or are close contacts of someone who does.
However, the government doesn’t offer direct financial support to people unable to work because of lockdown restrictions.
Labor’s Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the federal government had a responsibility to let Victoria know what support they would provide.
“We call on the federal government to take those requests seriously – to extend JobKeeper or, if they have a better idea, lets hear it,” he told reporters.
“The Victorian community, small businesses and workers in Victoria are being strangled by the Morrison government’s incompetence.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pointed to $45 billion in direct financial support provided to Victoria during the pandemic.
“This government will continue to provide [Victoria] with support as we have in the past and as we continue to do, even now,” he told parliament.
Residents of metropolitan Melbourne will remain under lockdown until 11.59pm, 10 June, with only five exceptions to leave their homes – to buy essential supplies, for approved work, to give or receive care, exercise, and to be vaccinated.
At the same time, the stay-at-home orders will be lifted for regional Victoria.
Food, entertainment, retail, and religious services will also be able to open in regional areas, but businesses will be required to confirm that patrons are not residents of Melbourne.
The decision to extend the lockdown was made after an increase in casual contact transmission, with at least one-in-10 current cases infected by a stranger.