Topics: Covid disaster payment; Victorian lockdown


Natalie Barr: Now, the federal government has announced emergency payments to help Melbourne residents struggling through the extended lockdown, the temporary Covid disaster payment will apply for Lockdown’s longer than seven days. The weekly payment will be $500 for people who usually work more than 20 hours a week and $325 for those who work less. But there is strict criteria, including being aged 17 or older, unable to work during lockdown and not be claiming other special pandemic leave. Workers must also declare they have less than ten thousand dollars in liquid assets. For more, I’m joined by Finance Minister Simon Birmingham. Morning to you.


Simon Birmingham: Morning Nat.


Natalie Barr: There are a few conditions to this payment. Is it too strict?


Simon Birmingham: No, Nat. Look, this is about providing a helping hand to those hospitality workers, retail workers, others across Melbourne who are facing a second week of lockdown and may find themselves with zero hours of work having been stood down, therefore needing a bit of assistance. And essentially, if they meet those criteria, then they get this money and they will see it processed as soon as they apply as early as next Tuesday, processed very quickly and payments hit their bank accounts as quickly as possible, hopefully within hours, if not certainly within days.


Natalie Barr: Ok, let’s get on to why they need the Victorian government has been accused of scaremongering about the danger of this Indian variant after two cases of fleeting transmission were actually classified as false positive. They were partially used to justify extending the lockdown. Should it now be ended?


Simon Birmingham: Now, that’s a matter for Victorian health authorities, I’m sure they will relook at all the circumstances. They’ve been running more than 50,000 tests a day, and I encourage Melburnians in particular and all Australians to keep getting out there, keep getting tested, because that’s just so crucial. These two false positives, well no doubt health authorities will look at those in the light of whatever the results from yesterday’s testing numbers are too. If that provides some scope to perhaps narrow the breadth of the lockdown to perhaps let some people back to work, some kids back to school. I know that would be very welcome, but we’ll back in the health advice as it comes through there. In the meantime, as the federal government, we’re doing, as we’ve always done, responded to the changing circumstances, providing support where it’s necessary and will take these new pandemic disaster payments through the national cabinet process today so that all Australians can know that this type of system will be there should there be a repeat of the Melbourne situation anywhere else in the country, too.


Natalie Barr: But I guess closing down such a big stage, the tentacles really are felt across the country. Jeff Kennett said another Fawlty Towers example of failure. As finance minister, you must have a view on that, on whether the Victorian government has really messed up here?


Simon Birmingham: We would always prefer for there not to be Covid in the community and therefore not to be need for any lockdown’s. But continuing to suppress Covid is one of the most important ways for us to keep our economy strong. And Australia’s successful suppression of Covid and our success of the economy is completely world leading. We want to make sure we maintain that. Of course, we urge the Victorian government to take into account these two false positives to look carefully at what that means. But what it means will ultimately be informed by health advice, by the testing rates from yesterday and the number of positives that come from that. And out of that then we’ll see where they go. Lockdown shouldn’t be in place for a day longer than is necessary. But of course, they have a role to play to make sure that we keep Covid suppressed, Australians safe and from that keep our economy safe and strong compared to the rest of the world, too.


Natalie Barr: Ok, Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Nat. My pleasure.