CANBERRA, AAP – Businesses and workers have registered increasing anxiety over the looming end of wage subsidies, as Treasury prepares to face questions about JobKeeper’s expiry.
The Senate’s coronavirus response inquiry will on Thursday hear from Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy and senior departmental officials.
Labor senator and committee chair Katy Gallagher said the JobKeeper cliff was rapidly approaching with two million Australians unemployed or not working enough hours.
“Naturally these people are very concerned about what is around the corner for them and whether they will be left behind in the COVID recovery,” she told AAP.
“JobKeeper has been a lifeline for so many during this crisis and Scott Morrison wants to rip it away without telling those who are still struggling how they will be supported when these payments stop.”
The government argues there are a range of other business support programs in place and has not ruled out targeted packages for sectors like tourism beyond March.
But Senator Gallagher said the committee would scrutinise that claim.
“We want answers about what support will exist for these people after the March JobKeeper cliff and what impact the prime minister’s decision to axe JobKeeper will have on the economy,” she said.
The January Sensis Business Index, which surveyed 1000 small business owners and managers, found increasing concerns about the scheme ending.
Some 39 per cent said the loss of JobKeeper would have a major impact on business, up from 29 per cent in November.
A further 51 per cent of business owners said it would have a moderate impact, with just 10 per cent saying it will make no difference.
An Australian Services Union survey of more than 500 aviation workers found 72 per cent said they wouldn’t be able to support their families if JobKeeper was withdrawn.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said with JobKeeper finishing at the end of March, household savings would be crucial.
“It is vital that households, which have built up a very large financial buffer through the pandemic are prepared to now use that buffer to partially offset the impact on the economy of the withdrawal of support programs,” he said.
The Reserve Bank recently estimated household savings of $200 billion were amassed during the pandemic.
Unemployment benefits will also be in the spotlight with the government yet to make a decision on whether to permanently lift the dole from $40 a day when the coronavirus supplement ends in March.
As the prime minister weighs up the merits of a permanent increase to the dole and more support for businesses, new figures show more than 553,000 unemployed Australians have moved back into work.
More than twice as many people are exiting the government’s Jobactive employment services program as there are entering it.
Jobs in labouring, cleaning, sales, hospitality and factories topped the list of work placements.
“This is the face of the post-COVID workforce,” Employment Minister Michaelia Cash told AAP.
“From the sharpest decline to the fastest recovery, we are seeing individuals and businesses responding to our economic recovery plan and the support mechanisms we have put in place.”