CANBERRA REPORT | Government assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic leaves some to fall through the cracks

UNDER THREAT: Joel Fitzgibbon MP says the growth of the coronavirus will continue and we need to follow the health advice and government guidance.

UNDER THREAT: Joel Fitzgibbon MP says the growth of the coronavirus will continue and we need to follow the health advice and government guidance.

When I was last published on this page two weeks ago, there were around 450 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Australia. Two days earlier, when I wrote the piece, the number was just 376.

By Monday of this week, the virus was quickly making its way to 4000 patients, a ten-fold increase in a fortnight.

The growth will continue and we need to take the threat very seriously.

Please follow the health advice and government guidance on things like social distancing and restricting your outings.

Last week's 12-hour-long sitting of the Parliament was an historic one.

In my own contribution to the debate I emphasised the inadequacy of the support being given to small business and those losing their jobs.

The Prime Minister had already announced that those losing their job would be eligible for an enhanced Jobseeker Allowance (unemployment benefit), but he failed to mention that the allowance would be subject to a partner's income test.

That means that if a wife, husband or partner is earning more than $48,000, there is no eligibility.

Also, the additional component of the allowance would not apply to some other Centrelink payments, and workers under 22-years-of-age would continue to face the period living-away from home test to establish their independence from their parents.

This means that many now-jobless under 22-year-olds not living at home cannot receive assistance because their parents earn too much.

Along with a large number of small business problems, these were the issues that have taken most of my time, and that of my staff.

Happily, by the time this column is published, the Prime Minister would have heard our calls for further help and fixed the problems plaguing the assistance measures for individuals.

I suspect the small business measures may remain under-done, but I will continue to lobby for more.

Many of these issues could have been avoided if the government had implemented the wage subsidy model being embraced in other countries.

By the time this column is published, that may also have been done. I hope so.

A wage subsidy scheme is one in which the Government pays the employee a percentage (typically 80%) of their wage, whether they are working or not.

This avoids all the complexities of assistance qualification.

It helps ensure the employer retains his or her workforce and allows employers to keep people on despite collapsing revenues.

It is typically more expensive than Centrelink payments, but it is more effective and beneficial to the employer, the employee and the economy.

Many readers would have spoken with me or a member of my staff over the course of the last couple of weeks.

We thank you for your patience as we work hard to deal with the much larger than normal pleas for help.

I thank my staff, who have been under pressure but have stepped-up to a very big challenge.

Please, do not hesitate to contact us if you believe we may be able to help - 4991 1022 or joel.fitzgibbon.mp@aph.gov.au

Stay safe, together we will get through this crisis.

  • Joel Fitzgibbon is the Federal Member for Hunter

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