Photography: William West/AFP/Getty Images
Anthony Albanese continued to oppose calls to extend pandemic leave payments, while his ministers argued that states should make up the federal government’s slack.
But Albanese is facing a chorus of calls from both states, and within his own party, to extend the payments. On Friday, NSW Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said he would “absolutely” push for payments to be reinstated at Monday’s national cabinet meeting.
Albanese was due to leave the Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji on Friday, returning to a storm of controversy, with unions, many states and some labor lawmakers calling for extended pandemic payouts to help casual workers self-isolate and prevent the spread of Covid.
Albanese agreed to a request from Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk for a national cabinet meeting to be held on Monday, with pandemic leave and an end to rapid federal antigen testing for key items on the agenda of license holders. concession cards.
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On Friday, the prime minister opened the door to possible changes, noting that “we will give consideration to all these issues”, but repeated his defense that Labor “inherited these decisions” along with $1 trillion in debt.
“There was a huge waste there in the budget; If, for example, the government hadn’t given literally tens of billions of dollars to companies that were increasing their profits, there would have been more room in the budget to make the decisions we would like to make,” Albanese told reporters in Fiji.
Albanese argued that “a number of companies that are good employers are providing these systems [of leave]”.
“The idea that nobody is getting any sick leave right now is just not the case,” he said.
Albanese also suggested that “good employers are recognizing that people are continuing to work from home while they have Covid and are therefore receiving payments through it.”
While Perrottet acknowledged the budget pressures of the ongoing pandemic measures — he indicated his government was open to splitting the cost 50-50 with the community — he said it was “unfair” not to continue payments to casual workers while lockdown requirements are met. remained in force.
“I am very open to doing everything we can at the state level to support our people in this next phase of the pandemic,” he said.
“I think it’s unfair that [that when] the state imposes public health orders on people to restrict their freedom and their ability to work for the government not to provide financial support”.
Health Minister Mark Butler told Radio National that the public “want the country to move into a new phase in dealing with this pandemic”.
Butler said that “inevitably” after the government withdrew “mandates on people’s behavior” he had to reconsider “very large emergency payments”.
Pandemic leave support payments were not included in the medical director’s advice on how to limit the spread of Covid, he said.
On Wednesday, Butler said “millions” of Australians would hire
Covid in the coming weeks. There are already 4,000 people in the hospital and several hundred deaths every week.
On Friday, Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said the community wanted to “work with all state and territory leaders to ensure we can provide all available support to Australian workers and businesses who are struggling.”
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“We will try to address the issues that are putting pressure on Australian workers and businesses, but we have some real economic realities ahead of us,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
Jones said Albanese would be “looking for solutions” and noted that many of the states and territories that are asking for pandemic leave payments to be extended “actually have less debt and healthier balance sheets and budgets — some of them are approaching a surplus, something the Commonwealth will not do for the next two years.”
Some states and territories have moved to fill the gap created by the Commonwealth by ending its free rapid antigen testing scheme for grant card holders effective July 31. New South Wales has extended access to free quick tests until 31 October.
Tasmania’s Prime Minister Jeremy Rockliff and NSW Labor Opposition Leader Chris Minns have joined unions to call for the pandemic leave pay to be extended.
On Thursday, Labor MPs Mike Freelander and Michelle Ananda-Rajah, both doctors, asked for an extension of the payments.
On Friday, Shadow Health Minister Anne Ruston defended the Coalition’s decision to put an expiration date on temporary supports, arguing that the Morrison government responded to conditions at the time but was always guided by health advice. .
“What we are questioning is the timing of the removal of these Covid braces as we are entering what medical experts are saying is a very dangerous wave,” she told Radio National.
Ruston asked the government to explain “why it’s a good idea now to remove these braces” while also warning of more infections.
“Is the decision being made by the government based on health advice?”