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Centrelink support extension on cards as Melbourne lockdown hits economy

National

The Morrison government is poised to outline a rejigged job support plan later this month, as Melbourne’s lockdown smashes economic recovery plans amid estimates the setback will cost up to $1 billion a week.

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is assessing the future of the JobSeeker and JobKeeper welfare programs, with a plan due to be released on July 23.

JobKeeper wage subsidies are due to expire in September, while the JobSeeker dole payment has been doubled until then.

“There is going to be another phase of income support,” Frydenberg told the Seven Network on Wednesday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is confident the pandemic payments will be extended, saying the prime minister understands there will be more hardship and pain in his state.

“I’m confident there will be support there,” he told the Nine Network.

New lockdown measures across Melbourne will cost the economy up to $1 billion a week.

“This is a serious impediment to the speed and the trajectory of the nation’s economic recovery, not just Victoria,” Frydenberg told Sky News.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the Victorian outbreak and subsequent six-week lockdowns must be taken into account.

“This outbreak and these necessary new restrictions come with even more uncertainty for businesses and their workers, making the case for clarity on the future of JobKeeper even more urgent,” he told AAP.

“Scott Morrison has only added to the uncertainty by delaying the release of his secret JobKeeper review.

“The government should better target and taper support, but shouldn’t turn off the tap when businesses are struggling with new restrictions.”

More than 800,000 loans worth $260 billion have been deferred throughout the pandemic.

Banks are offering to extend the six-month deferrals for another four months, but only for customers who genuinely need emergency assistance.

“Banks are pledging to make sure that no customer falls off a cliff at the end of that six months,” Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh told ABC radio.

“Where the customer is unable to pay anything because they’re still affected there will be an extension of another four months.

“Those that can make repayments at the end of six months, they can start doing so.”

Financial services regulator APRA has also provided relief to encourage banks to restructure loans.

These options include extending the term of the loan or temporarily moving to interest-only repayments.

“We are fortunate that the Australian banking system has the balance sheet strength to be able to provide ongoing support to customers temporarily impacted by COVID-19,” APRA chair Wayne Byres said.

“This will help to avoid unnecessary hardship and foreclosures, and allow the banking sector to work with its customers to find the best solution to manage their debts.”

John Vaz, a senior lecturer at Monash University, called on the government to ensure access to low-interest business loans for the next two to three years.

Melburnians will be forced back into lockdown from midnight on Wednesday, after the city experienced weeks of soaring coronavirus infections, including a record 191 new cases on Tuesday.

-with AAP

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