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Nearly 300,000 Australian firms line up for wage subsidy

National

More than 285,000 businesses have registered their interest in claiming the wage subsidy for workers announced by the federal government this week.

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The $1500 fortnightly payment per worker will flow to businesses from May, with the government estimating it will keep six million workers in jobs at a cost of $130 billion over the next six months.

The announcement came after hundreds of thousands of workers were stood down or sacked as businesses across Australia shut due to strict measures to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Huge queues formed at Centrelink offices around the country, and the MyGov online portal crashed after an estimated 100,000 users tried to log on at the same time.

The massive expenditure brings the government’s total support measures up to about $320 billion, with all talk of a budget surplus long gone.

The Parliamentary Budget Office is now examining the implications of the coronavirus and its economic hit to the budget over the next decade.

The Morrison government is urging other countries to do more to stabilise the global economy as it prepares to roll out a massive program of wage subsidies.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with G20 finance ministers overnight, asking them to act urgently and commit to a fiscal support target to help the recovery once the coronavirus crisis is over.

He wants the grouping of the world’s largest economies to send a signal to their citizens they are doing whatever it takes.

“First, our priority should be putting the global economy into controlled hibernation while quarantine measures are in place,” he said.

“Quick, strong and co-ordinated action now will minimise the permanent human and economic damage.”

The Treasurer also wants a G20 commitment to lead the global recovery once the health crisis recedes, including co-ordination over the easing of travel, transport and production restrictions, and developing a robust long-term recovery plan.

Emergency flights for food exports

The federal government will spend $110 million on flights to send fresh produce to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates in a bid to help Australian farmers and fishers under economic pressure due to the coronavirus.

Where possible, the planes will return loaded with medical supplies and pharmaceuticals Australia needs to fight the disease.

Fisheries fees of $10 million will be waived, with a further $50 million added to a grants program to reimburse exporters for marketing costs.

Exports including lobster and abalone have taken massive hits as the global pandemic shuts down commercial air travel, with most air freight previously going out in passenger planes.

Fruit and vegetables, red meat and dairy products are among the other exports expected to benefit from the flights.

Cruise ship operator appeals for humanitarian help

The Ruby Princess cruise ship’s operator is urging the NSW government to adopt a humanitarian approach to its crew members who are ill with COVID-19.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller on Tuesday called on nine cruise ships either docked in NSW or waiting off the coast to return to home ports immediately, rather than risk flooding the state’s hospitals with coronavirus patients.

“All the hard work we’ve done could be over. We will continue to allow them to have fuel and food … but it is time to go to your port of origin,” Fuller said.

But Carnival Australia said it wasn’t safe to sail with ill crew members aboard.

“While illness on board has been reduced due to strong health management, the ship needs to remain within reach of Australia to access healthcare services if an urgent need arises,” the company said in a statement.

Six seriously ill crew members have already been transferred to NSW hospitals.

Carnival said it is currently “in high-level federal and state discussions with the aim of enabling the repatriation on compassionate and humanitarian grounds”.

There are 1100 crew on the Ruby Princess from 51 countries. The company argues while the ship is registered in Bermuda, its home port is effectively Sydney given it was here on a six-month cruise season.

The Ruby Princess has become a major source of COVID-19 cases in Australia after infected passengers were allowed to disembark without adequate checks.

There are 324 coronavirus infections in NSW linked to cruise ships, including 211 cases from the Ruby Princess and 79 from the Ovation of the Sea.

Wharfies refused to unload China ship

More than 60 Melbourne wharfies have been stood down after refusing to unload a container vessel carrying medical supplies from China.

The Xin Da Lian docked at the DP World terminal at the Port of Melbourne on Tuesday night, after leaving Shanghai on March 17.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the vessel was in “in breach of the federal government’s 14-day coronavirus quarantine period” and “a risk to workers and the community”.

Its members refused to unload the vessel due to coronavirus risk concerns and were subsequently stood down.

But DP World Australia chief operating officer Andrew Adam said the ship was cleared to berth by Australian Border Force.

“Any crew members aboard a vessel that has been to mainland China, must have been at sea for 14 days before they are allowed to dock in Australia,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The union is not allowed to unilaterally declare a vessel unsafe: they are not allowed to create their own set of rules.”

The vessel is believed to be carrying toilet rolls, surgical masks, shoe coverings, chemicals for the manufacture of soap and detergent, surgical gowns, laboratory coats, hair nets, tin food and whitegoods.

Some 22 wharfies were stood down on Tuesday night followed by another 40 on Wednesday morning, DP World said.

MUA national assistant secretary Warren Smith defended the union’s stance, saying it didn’t want to see a repeat of Sydney’s Ruby Princess cruise ship debacle.

“The largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Australia – which has already claimed several lives and caused hundreds of illnesses – was the result of inadequate measures put in place for the arrival of ships,” he said in a statement.

“What’s the difference with this ship?”

Private hospital deal to treat non-insured patients

Victoria is set to announce its own deal with private hospitals in the state, providing an extra 9000 beds, as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus keep growing.

It follows the federal announcement that more than 34,000 private hospital beds will be available during the pandemic.

As of April 1, non-urgent elective surgery has been suspended across Australia.

“It will not matter whether you have private health insurance. Your bank balance, your paycheque will not be a consideration,” Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said on Tuesday.

Victoria recorded 96 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total tally to 917 cases. Among them were four babies, three under 12 months old and the fourth a year old. 

-with AAP

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