CANBERRA, AAP – Workers who lose their livelihoods because of coronavirus lockdowns will be eligible for up to $500 a week under a complex scheme aimed at helping Victorians.
The measures will apply to any part of Australia designated as a virus hotspot and locked down for more than seven days.
Melbourne is bracing to enter a second week of harsh restrictions as the state government tries to stifle an outbreak that has infected 63 people.
People who worked more than 20 hours in the week before a lockdown will be eligible for $500, while those employed for under 20 hours could access $325.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new coronavirus disaster payments would be made on a week-to-week basis.
“Victorians just want to know that they are getting help next week,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
To be eligible for the payments, workers will have to declare having less than $10,000 in liquid assets.
Welfare recipients including those on JobSeeker will not be able to access the payment.
Mr Morrison is keen to split the costs 50-50 with affected states and will discuss the idea with premiers and chief ministers at a national cabinet meeting on Friday.
Alternatively, states could agree to support business while the Commonwealth stumps up cash for households during extended shutdowns.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the payment would take the sting out of the grim situation many Victorians were in.
“It will allow many people to pay their bills and support their families while returning some of the lost spending back into the economy,” he said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said workers would be left with nothing for a week before a restricted cohort could receive a small amount.
Ms O’Neil, who has been calling for JobKeeper to be revived, said the disaster payment was a third below minimum wage and half the standard amount for fire and floods.
“The payment that has been announced is no replacement for a wage subsidy available fast to everyone affected,” she said.
The federal government rejected offering Victoria a financial support package during the first week of lockdown.
But the looming second week of restrictions intensified pressure on Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to intervene.
Labor is blaming the federal government’s refusal to build more quarantine facilities and the sluggish vaccination rollout for the lockdown.
The prime minister denied the announcement was an admission his government was partially responsible for shutting Victoria down.
The opposition peppered Mr Morrison with questions in parliament asking him if he took responsibility for a litany of failures during the pandemic.
“Nothing is more certain than this prime minister passing the buck. He takes responsibility for nothing,” Victorian-based Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said.
Mr Morrison said he had not received a request for more vaccines from Victoria despite the state’s deputy chief health officer saying Pfizer stocks were running low.
“If there are issues that need to be addressed there then we are happy to address them,” he said.
So far, 4.64 million Australians have received a vaccine dose.