Topics:   COVID disaster payment; vaccine rollout; online applications

07:05 PM AEST


Carrie Bickmore: And Finance Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now. Simon, as the PM says, lockdown’s will be a thing of the past once the population is vaccinated, aren’t you admitting that these lockdowns are because of the slow vaccine rollout?


Simon Birmingham: Well under none of the plans that had been outlined right from the start of the year were we ever going to be at a point at this stage of 2021 where we had sufficient population vaccinated to prevent what had come along in 2021, which is the Delta variant, highly transmissible, much bigger impact in the end, I think under any circumstances of the vaccine rollout that was scheduled to take place even before we had the changing advice of AstraZeneca, before we had the failure of delivery from Europe, we still would have faced a real challenge and probably lockdowns at this time. But certainly the pathway forward is to build on the eleven point six million doses of vaccination that have been received by Australians already. And we’re now seeing more than a million doses, around a million doses of Pfizer coming in every week to supplement the AstraZeneca and really to make sure that those numbers keep growing, as they did in the last 24 hours, yet another record rate of nearly 200,000 doses.


Gorgi Coghlan: So, JobKeeper is off the table, but haven’t you just really brought a version of it back without its best feature, which was keeping employees connected with their jobs?


Simon Birmingham: Well, you’re right that we have brought a version of JobKeeper back in the sense that we’re providing direct financial assistance to Australians who are losing hours of work, but we’ve done it in a way that is more targeted to the geographical areas that were necessary. Whereas JobKeeper was Australia wide, we’re able to turn the COVID disaster assistance payments on and off according to the city or the region that is affected. And we’re delivering those payments into Sydney. We’ve now seen a million claims made and around half a billion dollars, five hundred million dollars of payments made already. And importantly, these payments are more available to casual employees than JobKeeper was. They’re able to be accessed by individuals who might be working for a national business that might be doing just fine everywhere else across the country and may not have qualified under the old JobKeeper. But if individuals are losing hours in Sydney in that national business, then they can get this support.


Waleed Aly: But if you believe the unions, we’re also seeing people lose their jobs precisely because of the tie to their employer, isn’t there? So with JobKeeper the money, went to the employer and the employer then passed it on to the employee and they had to keep them employed. The unions are saying that’s being severed now. People are just being let go.


Simon Birmingham: We don’t think we’re seeing that sort of evidence, indeed, most employers won’t want to realise if they were redundancy payments or the like, those costs, they want to know their employees are looked after and this payment is there for that. And when they restart, they’re going to want those employees to be able to reopen their businesses. It wasn’t just announcement today-


Waleed Aly: Sorry, Minister. Fair enough. That’s a big set of assumptions. Whereas with JobKeeper you had a requirement, you actually met the employers did not have a choice about that. They had to keep their staff on. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t maintain that aspect of the policy.


Simon Birmingham: Because, Waleed, what we’ve got here is a policy that, as I said, is able to go to people who would have missed out under the JobKeeper model because the JobKeeper model had to define eligibility by the business eligibility. And that means that many businesses, national businesses who are reducing hours if they’re casual or part time or other employees, wouldn’t have met the eligibility criteria for JobKeeper. Those individual employees are meeting the eligibility criteria for the COVID disaster payment. They’re getting those seven hundred and fifty dollar payments, as there will be in the future, and they’re going to get that support. And what we’re investing in as well with the business support package is making sure those businesses survive and get through, therefore enabling our economy to bounce back just as strongly as it has from each and every other, lock down and shut down we face throughout this pandemic.


Waleed Aly: So the government has a made virtue of this idea that once you have made your application the money comes very quickly. I think Josh Frydenberg said within in 40 minutes of applications in some cases. What isn’t being explained though is that application process seems to be incredibly arduous and complicated. We now know from people that we have spoken to about this that there are people online for like five hours trying to make their way through this in order to do the necessary paperwork and then at the end of that they have to go into Centrelink, potentially in a lockdown when you really wouldn’t want them going out anywhere. Why would you set up a system that is so arduous? And so inefficient in that way?


Simon Birmingham:   Waleed, more than 90 per cent of claims are being successfully claimed online and are done in far shorter time frames than what you are talking about-


Waleed Aly: I don’t dispute that. I’m interested in the people that aren’t applying because it’s too hard for them to apply.


Simon Birmingham: I think we would need to understand an individual case as to why it was that somebody had that experience when more than 90 per cent of people are successfully doing it online, around a million claims have been successfully processed. People are indeed receiving that money quite quickly when claims are put through.


Waleed Aly: Yeah, once they are put through. Do you have data on who’s giving up?


Simon Birmingham: Waleed, what we know is that the vast majority are successfully getting through and if there are specific cases then people should reach out. If they want to reach out to their local Member of Parliament, any of us would work to help people through those processes. The best thing people can do is if they have an existing myGov account to use that and if they don’t to establish a myGov account and that will give them the smoothest process through.


Waleed Aly: Well, I’ll take that advice and I’ll keep an eye on that because it does seem to be something we are hearing a little bit. In the meantime thank you so much for your time Minister, we really do appreciate it.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys, my pleasure.