“We have a long way to go. Through the actions we have taken to date, we have bought valuable time, to chart a way out over the next six months,” Mr Morrison told Parliament on Wednesday in the one-day sitting to vote on the package.
“But there are no guarantees, and it could well take far longer. Our country will look different on the other side. But Australians will always be Australians.”
The government modelling released on Tuesday did not put a timeframe on the crisis but canvassed several models including “scenario four” where the infection rate was kept to just 11.6 per cent of the population as a result of quarantine, isolation and social distancing measures.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said that scenario would see about three million Australians contract the virus, but even that was now well above the government’s worst case.
“We’ve now boosted [the health system] capacity dramatically, and at the same time, we have contained and now we’re in the suppression phase of the virus.”
Without a vaccine to counter the virus over the next 12 to 18 months, however, experts have debated whether Australia would have to accept more infections and possibly “herd immunity” to build the country’s resistance to the disease.
“Some people had talked about this idea of herd immunity – we’ve rejected that as a country because herd immunity is 60 per cent of the population,” Mr Hunt said.
He said that would mean the infection of 15 million people and a “catastrophic loss of human life” when assuming an infection fatality rate of 1 per cent.
“That’s not a theory which the Australian government or the national cabinet have been considering or proposing. We reject it,” he said. “There’s a very clear process that they’re working through together.
“I won’t speculate on time, but the more successful we are at suppressing community transmission, that gives us the freedom to move earlier on a measure-by-measure and a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis.”
Some have likened the approach to “zoning” or easing shutdowns in some states or cities to determine the impact on the infection rate and the relative success of each measure.
The JobKeeper bill to keep millions employed through the shutdowns passed the House of Representatives without amendments on Wednesday afternoon and was on track to pass the Senate later in the night.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called for more help for 1.1 million casual workers who will not qualify for the payment, but said the opposition would not put amendments in the Senate and would back the bill, giving the government the numbers to pass the bill through the upper house.
The Senate also approved a committee chaired by Labor Senator Katy Gallagher to scrutinise the government response to the crisis.
While Labor argued for more sittings to ensure greater scrutiny, the government insisted on its preferred plan for Parliament to take a long winter break and resume on August 11.
Under the JobKeeper package, inspectors from the Commonwealth workplace ombudsman will have the power to check businesses to see if they are following the new laws.
And while the government has made clear who will be eligible for JobKeeper, the Treasurer has the power to make adjustments.
The tax office will also have the discretion to set alternative tests for eligibility where a business’ unique situation requires it and can be tolerant where a business just misses the revenue downturn required to access JobKeeper.
But if an employer receives the money when they should not have, they will have to pay back the full sum, plus interest. And if the Tax Office is suspicious about an employers’ eligibility, they can delay the payment by instead making it as a tax credit.
Meanwhile on Wednesday the Fair Work Commission changed 99 workplace awards to give employees access to two weeks of unpaid pandemic leave if they need to self-isolate and an option to take double their leave at half pay if their employer agrees.
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David Crowe is chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Nick Bonyhady is industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.