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COVID welfare can't continue indefinitely, says PM

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Scott Morrison says he will continue to reassess the needs of sectors hardest hit by coronavirus, but warned welfare packages cannot continue endlessly.

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The prime minister has praised a major retailer for returning JobKeeper payments after posting record online sales.

Super Retail Group – which owns and operates Supercheap Auto, Rebel, Macpac and BCF – handed back $1.7 million in taxpayer-funded income support this week.

“What that says is people know when they need it, and they appreciate it when they need it, but they don’t want to take advantage of it,” Scott Morrison told 2GB radio on Wednesday.

“We can’t run the Australian economy on government money forever.”

More than 450,000 businesses came off JobKeeper in September when payments were reduced and eligibility requirements reassessed.

Morrison wants to see other companies reliant on wage assistance get back on their own two feet.

“It’s all taxpayer money, it’s all debt, and it’s got to be paid back,” he said.

“We’ve got to be very careful with how we deal with these programs, they can’t just continue endlessly.”

With JobKeeper set to end in March, the prime minister again indicated he was open to providing targeted support to specific industries in financial strife, such as the tourism sector.

“We will keep looking at the information and take it step-by-step,” Morrison said.

“There are still sectors that are struggling.”

The prime minister was also asked about unemployed people on temporarily boosted JobSeeker payments, which are set to expire at the end of March.

He conceded people on welfare payments would find it challenging when the benefits are wound back.

“That is the case,” Morrison said.

“We have to reset it and that’s what we have been doing, we haven’t done it overnight.”

Unless the federal government decides to increase the rate of JobSeeker beyond March, the payment is set to return to just $40 a day.

The prime minister said his primary focus was on getting people back into work.

“Before this COVID crisis, we were at the lowest level of welfare dependency in 30 years. I want to get back to that as soon as we can,” he said.

“That’s going to be achieved by creating jobs and getting businesses investing.”

– AAP

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