Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the JobKeeper scheme was the biggest economic lifeline in the nation’s history, designed to protect jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today is not about ideologies. We check those at the door,” he told parliament.
“Today is about defending and protecting Australia’s national sovereignty.”
Draft laws underpinning the scheme will pass the lower house on Wednesday afternoon before going to the Senate for approval.
Under the scheme, coronavirus-affected businesses will get $1500 in fortnightly payments to pass on to each employee.
Workers who have their hours cut will be able to request time to work a second job.
The Fair Work Commission will be able to review stand-down periods and employer changes to people’s work location or duties.
Workers can agree to change their days, while bosses could also ask for annual leave to be taken, provided employees have two weeks left over.
Reasonable requests to take annual leave will not be able to be refused.
But the Morrison government is refusing to extend the JobKeeper scheme to more than two million casual workers, temporary visa holders and local council employees who will miss out.
Labor will try to amend the bill in the House of Representatives so more casual workers will benefit.
“Many needy Australians will miss out,” Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told the chamber.
When the bill is voted on in the Senate later in the day, Labor won’t support any amendments not introduced by the opposition, he said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says the government won’t accept any amendments to the bill, noting it will support six million Australians.
He said the states were responsible for council workers and reiterated calls for struggling visa workers to pack up and leave.
However, the situation is not that simple for many temporary residents, with flights cancelled, borders closed and some countries made unsafe.
While unions pushed for changes to be made through the Fair Work Commission, the government will instead legislate temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act.
The government says people who are not eligible for JobKeeper could access the $1100-a-fortnight JobSeeker allowance and other welfare benefits.
Labor has also struck a deal to establish a select Senate committee to scrutinise all aspects of the government’s coronavirus response.
While the opposition would prefer parliament to sit during the pandemic, it is satisfied the inquiry will be the next best thing as the government spends $320 billion on relief measures.
Credit agency downgrades Australia to negative
Standard & Poor’s has lowered Australia’s credit rating outlook to negative from stable as a result of the impact on the economy from the coronavirus.
“The negative outlook reflects our view that Australia faces fiscal and economic risks that are tilted toward the downside,” S&P said in a statement on Wednesday.
While it has affirmed the nation’s AAA rating, it said it could cut this if the COVID-19 outbreak causes economic damage that is more severe or prolonged than what it currently expects.
“With household indebtedness at elevated levels, this could delay the process of repairing the government balance sheet beyond what we expect currently. Government indebtedness and interest costs will remain at elevated levels,” S&P said.
A credit rating downgrade would not only be a hit to confidence, it could result in higher borrowing costs when companies, banks and government entities seek funding abroad.
Cormann rejects MP pay cut calls
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is digging in against growing calls for federal politicians, including other MPs, to take a pay cut during the coronavirus crisis.
Cormann has told the remuneration tribunal to institute a pay freeze but refuses to go further.
“Right now politicians are probably working harder than they ever have,” he told ABC radio.
“This is the most intense period in my working life that I am going through, and I think it’s the same for most if not all of my colleagues.”
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