Topics:  COVID Disaster Assistance Payments

10:05 AM ACST


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham is Liberal Senator from South Australia, the Federal Finance Minister, he joins us now. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David Bevan, and good morning to your listeners.


David Bevan: Now, yesterday, we had a call from a lady by the name of Rachel. Now, I’m not sure whether she would have been eligible for the state funding or the federal funding, but she said the reason she fell through the cracks was she was a micro business. She got very small turnover. But she said, look, we’ve put our heart and soul into this business. We look after horses and we don’t think we can last much longer than a few weeks. Now we’ve come out of lock down. Hopefully they’ll be able to get back on their feet. But Sarah wanted to know what’s in it for me. And she was having trouble getting through to a local MP, Josh Teague. Is there anything you can do for her?


Simon Birmingham: I suspect that in her case, she may well be eligible for the COVID-19 disaster assistance payment that we are providing across hotspot locations around the country and with the states, we’ve extended that out. If they’re applying lockdowns more broadly, it sounds like, from what you’ve told me, David, that she may not meet the eligibility criteria for the business assistance payments that the state government are making, that the business might be too small for that criteria without knowing those details precisely. But, if she’s essentially lost hours of work and is a micro business, that’s her own labour and effort going into those hours of work. And if those hours lost equate to more than eight hours, then she should seek to go through the process of claiming the $375 payment. If those hours of work over the last week equate to more than 20 hours, then she should go through the process of claiming the $600 payment.


David Bevan: Ok, so if Sarah- but all the other Sarahs who are out there want to get information about what they can get from the federal program, where do they go?


Simon Birmingham: Indeed, so today is the first day that South Australians can apply for the financial assistance, having concluded the week. It works off the basis, as I said before, that you have to have lost at least eight hours of work over the course of the last week. And that triggers an eligibility for $375 payment if it’s between eight and 20 hours of work or if it’s more than 20 hours of work and triggers eligibility for a $600 payment. The simplest way to access that for South Australians is that if people have an existing myGov account to link them with the Centrelink account and that is the online process that across the country some 90 per cent of people, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, have been using. It’s a fairly quick and simple process. And indeed, some people have reported that they’ve got the money in their bank accounts within 40 minutes of having successfully lodged the application. But not everybody will have an existing myGov account. So if they go to the Services Australia website they can find information about either how to establish that myGov account or how else they might be able to make the application.


David Bevan: That’s the voice of Simon Birmingham, the Federal Finance Minister. Thank you to Kath, who’s on the South Eastern Freeway. She says take it easy. Just came from Mount Barker heading to town. Lots of water on the road. So please be careful. Water spraying up and going over the bonnet. So take it easy. Keep safe. On the text line. David, at Yorke Peninsula particular asked this question of you, Simon Birmingham. The forgotten workforce, he says, are the travel agents working hard behind the scenes, refunding billions of dollars back to clients without any income to travel agents. Plus, Australian borders close in hours sending clients into turmoil, still working without any income, 90 per cent of travel agent income comes from international travel. How are they meant to survive? Asks David.


Simon Birmingham: Well, I know travel agents are doing it incredibly tough. I wouldn’t agree they’re the forgotten workforce. They’ve been two tranches of specific payments available for travel agents and travel agents alone. Those payments have totalled a couple of hundred million dollars in support across the country, offering tens of thousands of dollars of assistance to travel agencies depending on the scale of their businesses. And so we have recognised that travel agents do sit in a particularly difficult situation, not just the loss of business, but exactly as your listener has outlined the fact they also have been doing a lot of work to refund customers. So it’s been both an absence of money in the effort required for money out. And so travel agents, in addition to all of the economy wide supports that have been available, different business payments, JobKeeper while it was operating. All of those different things have also received then these additional payments that have come in two tranches, one late last year from memory that the eligibility kicked off and the other one from around the end of the first quarter of this year, recognising the cessation of the JobKeeper program at that time.


David Bevan: Is it just stubbornness that’s stopping the federal government from reintroducing JobKeeper?


Simon Birmingham: No, it’s not. JobKeeper operated as a national program and what we’ve got in place with the COVID disaster payments now enables us to respond in different locations across the country. In a more adaptive way as we get these lockdowns and clearly we don’t need a JobKeeper right now in Western Australia or Tasmania or indeed a few weeks ago before we went into lockdown, you wouldn’t have said that it was necessary in South Australia either. So the new COVID disaster payment allows us to target the areas of support when and where they’re needed. Dan Andrews, the Victorian Labor Premier, has likened these payments to being like a new version of JobKeeper. And that’s really what they’re designed to do, to provide support to individuals losing hours of work for the duration of time. They’re losing those hours of work. There’s a couple of things that make it additionally more important or better than JobKeeper. One is greater flexibility for the inclusion of casual employees than JobKeeper allowed. The other is the fact that because these lockdowns are localised, what you’ve got is that national businesses probably wouldn’t meet the eligibility threshold for reducing their hours- sorry for loss of turnover under an old JobKeeper type model, but their staff are meeting the eligibility threshold if they’re losing hours for this payment. So it’s able to capture people who might otherwise miss out on support if we just had JobKeeper back in place.


David Bevan: Pete on the text line asks, does eligibility criteria of savings of $10,000 applied to your business bank account or is it a personal savings account?


Simon Birmingham: So if he’s talking about the disaster payment that South Australians can apply for from today, there is not a liquid assets test applied to that payment. An earlier variation when when this payment was first stood up at the very early stages of lockdown’s in other states, there was a criteria around having less than $10,000 in liquid assets available. We’ve subsequently waived that to make it simpler for people and again, more accessible across the economy.


David Bevan: Sarah has called us. Now Sarah, you were the caller yesterday, just before the 11 o’clock news. And you were saying, look, effectively, I’m a micro businesses, there’s not a lot of money in this, but I poured my heart and soul into it. And you were looking for help. You were going to chase up your local MP, Josh Teague. Now, we’ve tried to get him on. No luck. Have you had any luck?


Caller Sarah: Josh Teague did ring me yesterday afternoon. And we were on the phone a long time and not about this, but about a whole lot of other things that in 70 years on this planet, things have gone awry, especially for my industry, the horse industry, no TAFE courses and all that sort of thing.


David Bevan: 70 years, it could have been a very long conversation, but did you get any satisfaction?


Caller Sarah: We’re not eligible because we’re in the Adelaide Hills. There will be micro businesses in the same boat as us. We’re not eligible because we’re under federal and we’re not eligible under federal because we don’t draw a wage. We put food on our table and in our horses feed bins. But that’s it. And we’re not a sole proprietor or partnership because we’re a proprietary limited company. We just got thrown all these bits and pieces. We’re just not eligible is the bottom line. So, look- I don’t want taxpayers money. I just want- and look lockdown’s gone and we will survive yet again. But what about all the other micro businesses out there that are hitting the same frustrating walls as myself? It’s not easy enough. It’s not easy at all. It’s not good enough. Give us a phone number where we can talk to a human being and we don’t wait for three hours and get a robot on the other end of the phone. There’s people out there hurting, really hurting more than us. Absolutely more than us. And there needs to be phone numbers, state and federal. And look what’s happened to your gentleman this morning, trying to get Josh Teague – couldn’t. And that was the main thing yesterday with Josh. I said you’ve got elderly people in your electorate. You know, he’s in Stirling office. Lots of old people up here, us included. And if they’re not computer literate, and by the way the internet’s out for us all at the moment anyway, so forget that. The thing is, you need to speak to a person. And Rebecca Sharkie- he said it’s the NBNs fault because they couldn’t direct calls to people. I said, well, put a mobile phone number on your message. But anyway, nobody can get the office yet again today and we’re out of lockdown. So what’s the excuse today? End of my story.


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, would you like to?


Simon Birmingham: Few bits in there. I’ll grab Sarah’s contact details off air so that so that perhaps we can just touch base and understand. Because as I said earlier, I would have anticipated that Sarah would meet the eligibility either for the business grants, the U.S. government administering or the COVID disaster grants that we are administering and that there should be a way to navigate that. The South Australian government’s business grants have sole trading business as being eligible. But whether there’s a threshold issue there in terms of the size of turnover or the like, I just need to get to the bottom of that in Sarah’s case.


David Bevan: And Sarah, before you go, a listener wants to know, did you get rid of the tree that fell over your driveway?


Caller Sarah: Oh, we had three, but yes, they’ve gone. And thank you for your concern. It’s all part of it, isn’t it? Never mind. Thank you for following up, David. Really appreciate it. I hope that you can somehow put across the air how people can ring if they’re in the situation we’re in. We’re not a sole trader, Mr Birmingham. We’re a proprietary limited company. That’s one of the problems we’ve got. And we’re not a partnership. We see everything we’ve brought up. Problem, problem. I don’t care about us. I care they get it sorted for the other little micro businesses because none of us have buffers.


Simon Birmingham: Companies are definitely also eligible. The point is that the business support is there for companies and sole traders, but need to understand quite what it is that is apparently making Sarah ineligible in the advice she’s got to date and see whether there’s a way through that.


David Bevan: Well, look, Sarah, thank you for your time. Minister, thank you for yours.