The Prime Minister confirmed today that Australia may need to “adjust, based on advice and the strength of the economy” and how many people we are getting back into jobs.
His comments followed news.com.au’s exclusive report that Treasury officials are working on options to reduce or redesign the scheme.
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These proposals could include reducing the $1500 payment and or targeting it at specific sectors that are hardest hit by ongoing COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions.
“As we need to adjust, based on advice and the strength of the economy and how many people we are getting back to jobs – these are the things we will watch carefully,’’ the Prime Minister said.
But he cautioned the fight against COVID-19 was not over.
“We still have a long way to go on this. I think it is dangerous, I think, to assert this is all over,” he said.
“I think Australians have to remain on their guard. The reason we’re opening things up again is not that the virus is beaten.
“The virus is still out there – it hasn’t gone anywhere – it is still out there.”
But he cautioned it was “premature” to speculate on whether the program could be scrapped before the promised September 27 end date.
“All of this is very premature. We are six weeks into a six-month program,” he said.
The Prime Minister also noted that he had always said JobKeeper needed to be “targeted”, leaving the door open to adjusting eligibility for the scheme as the economy reopens.
“And what we need to ensure that we do is that whatever supports we have, that they are targeted,” he said.
“In early March, I said we had to have programs that were targeted. We had to have programs that used existing distribution mechanisms within the government.”
Asked if he would be prepared to extend the scheme beyond September for some industries, the Prime Minister said he didn’t have a crystal ball.
“I would encourage others not to get ahead of ourselves. In one of the most uncertain health environments, any of us have seen. I don’t have a crystal ball, if you have, you can share with me,” he said.
“We will make decisions on the advice we have. Right now, Australians need that support.”
Deloitte Access Economics has today released several options for the reform of JobKeeper.
It includes calls to reduce the payment for some but extend it beyond September 27 for others.
“For JobKeeper to stop abruptly, all it would have done is have kicked the unemployment can down the road,” Deloitte’s Claire Atkinson said.
“Different types of businesses will be opening in different states at different times, but JobKeeper is due to expire all at once on 27 September 2020.
“The payments could be withdrawn slowly from $1,500 a fortnight to lower amounts on succeeding fortnights: to $1,200, then $900, $600 and finally $300 – adding eight weeks and a further $20 billion to its cost – or potentially just using up the already ‘unsubscribed’ amount.
“Even more narrowly, the government could take a targeted and more sectoral approach. For instance, if it replaced JobKeeper with a $600 a fortnight supplement for just over three months (beyond September) for businesses that fit narrower criteria and have been hit the hardest: 20 workers or fewer, and working in industries such as air transport, food and accommodation and arts and recreation.”
Broadcaster Ray Hadley told Attorney-General Christian Porter today he was increasingly hearing stories of staff who wanted to be paid JobKeeper but not front up to work.
“Look, I’m not here to criticise JobKeeper, I think it saved our economy. But I’m just getting frustrated with employers asking me what they do when employees simply refuse to come to work. What do they do?” he asked.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the same rules regarding fronting up for work still applied.
“And where an employee has been rostered on, or is directed to work, and they just don’t abide by that roster or turn up to work, then there’ll be consequences,” he said.
“And very often, those consequences are serious and in many instances that can result in dismissal. But nothing about JobKeeper changes those fundamental relationships between employee and employer.
“So, I guess the first rule is that employees still have to turn up to work to get the $1500 and if they don’t turn up to work then they can suffer the consequences that they would have suffered in January had they not turned up to work.
“And the second golden rule about the system is that employers can direct, in reasonable circumstances, someone to work less hours so that they meet that $1500, but employers can’t force employees to work more hours. Now, they can request that and they can encourage that, but they can’t compel that.”