“There is debate about what the Australian economy needs to look like on the other side of this,” Mr Frydenberg said on ABC Insiders.
Australia’s record-busting wage subsidy package is designed to support about 6 million people, about half the workforce, but there are another 2.2 million temporary visa holders potentially excluded by the scheme. Some of these workers will be eligible for JobKeeper, such as New Zealanders on 444 visas, and about 1 million of the visa holders are students or visitors. However, visa holders who are facing job losses will not be able to access this scheme and they are also ineligible for the $1100-a-fortnight JobSeeker support.
About 1 million casual workers are also not eligible for the $1500-a-fortnight JobKeeper payments because they were employed within the past 12 months. But they are typically able to receive JobSeeker and, if they can find a few hours of work, are able to supplement this income. Adding casuals to the scheme, bringing them onto JobKeeper rather than JobSeeker, would cost $5.7 billion more over six months.
“We had to draw the line somewhere,” Mr Frydenberg said, adding it was a debt the country would pay for years to come.
“I think the Australian people understand how generous, how significant this package is and what a substantial difference it will make in the workplace.”
He said that if there was no work for foreign visa holders, “they can go back to their home country, that is an option for them”.
As of Sunday morning, more than 800,000 businesses had applied for the JobKeeper program, which represents potentially millions of workers.
“Not everyone can fit within a program. The other thing to bear in mind is that not all sectors of the economy have been hit equally by the coronavirus,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“We know that, for example, the retail sector, the hospitality and the tourism sectors have been pretty badly hit. In that case, at $1500 a fortnight, that’s about equivalent to a replacement wage for those workers.”
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers supported the JobKeeper package but said too many workers were “left out or left behind”.
He criticised the government for deciding not to take the opportunity to help casual workers and temporary workers, saying they were “deliberately excluded” from the payments.
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Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie urged the government to expand the income support to temporary migrants, international students and asylum seekers.
“We cannot leave people stranded and destitute, abandoned in the face of this health and social crisis,” Dr Goldie said.
“The six-month JobKeeper payment, as well as the six-month increase to JobSeeker … will shield the nation, at least for a time, from what would have otherwise been a drastic surge in our already unacceptable poverty and unemployment rates. However, we cannot leave so many people behind,” she said.
Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia chief executive Mohammad Al-Khafaji said the government might be “unintentionally picking winners and losers” through the package.
“Given that some temporary visa holders who lose their jobs do not have access to superannuation and may not be able to return home, it is unclear what measures are in place to prevent them from experiencing hardship,” he said.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra