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SA to fund pandemic leave after federal knock-back

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The State Government will unveil a taxpayer-funded pandemic leave scheme for casual workers next week, after an appeal for the Federal Government to chip in was rejected.

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Treasurer Rob Lucas said today that the one-off payments would range up to $1500 and target casual workers who are forced out of work due to forced quarantine and do not have any other sick leave entitlements.

He said the Government was currently assessing eligibility requirements for similar schemes announced this week in Queensland and the ACT, with a SA announcement scheduled for early next week.

Victoria also has a $1500 pandemic payment in place, subsidised by the Federal Government, which is targeted at people who are required to self-isolate but don’t have any sick leave.

Lucas said treasury officers had been in discussions with the Federal Government to determine whether South Australia also qualified for commonwealth support, but the request was knocked back.

“I make no criticism of them (the Federal Government) because the Federal Government are funding JobKeeper and a whole heap of other payments, but they’ve made the decision at this stage that it’s only in the case of the disaster state – Victoria – that they will fund these $1500 payments,” he said.

“They’ve said equally that if we end up in the same position they would help fund the payments in South Australia.

“Given we’re not in that position, they’ve said it’s our responsibility and I assume they’ve said the same to Queensland and the ACT, and that’s why Queensland and the ACT I assume have made their announcements this week.”

The Queensland and ACT payments are made available to people if they have been directed by public health officers to self-isolate, if they have a positive COVID-19 test or if they are not covered by federal awards granting them some sick leave.

Lucas said the eligibility requirements in the eastern states were “the sort of scheme that we would be looking at here”.

He warned the payments could carry “significant costs” for taxpayers, with the Treasury tasked with “guesstimating” the exact sum.

“We have no idea what the cost will be,” he said.

“We are running a $2 billion approximate deficit this year… it (the pandemic leave) is part of that overall cost of coping with COVID-19.

“Clearly, if we were to ever end up in the circumstances like Victoria – let’s hope that we don’t – then you’d have potential significant additional costs for taxpayers.

“If we manage to keep the spread of the coronavirus to the levels that we’ve looked at here, whilst it would potentially still be a significant cost, it wouldn’t be as significant as it is with Victoria’s case.

“It just depends on the extent of quarantining or directions to self-isolate that the public health officer makes.”

Lucas said he could give a “personal assurance signed almost in blood” that Treasury would not put pressure on SA Health officials not to force as many people into quarantine to save costs.

SA’s chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier has expressed support for a paid pandemic leave scheme in the state to ensure people self-isolate without fear of the financial repercussions.

SA Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she would push ahead with a bill for paid pandemic leave when Federal Parliament resumes on Monday.

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