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I get locked down, and I'm locked down again... something, something, something whiskey drink

This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new COVID-19 financial support package for Sydneysiders currently in lockdown.

This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new COVID-19 financial support package for Sydneysiders currently in lockdown. 

The new measures were welcomed as a necessary response to help those impacted by a loss of work and business.

But the announcement was met with frustration from other states, particularly Victoria, who had been asking for help during their own lockdowns.

Today, contributing editor of The Monthly Rachel Withers on why it took an outbreak in his own backyard for Scott Morrison to act.


Guest: Contributing editor to The Monthly Rachel Withers.

Show Transcript

[Theme music starts]

BETH:
From Schwartz Media, I'm Beth Atkinson-Quinton, this is 7am.

 

This week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new COVID-19 financial support package for Sydneysiders currently in lockdown. The new measures were welcomed as a necessary response to help those impacted by a loss of work and business. But the announcement was met with frustration from other states, particularly Victoria, who had been asking for help during their own lockdowns.

 

Today, contributing editor of The Monthly, Rachel Withers, on why it took an outbreak in his own backyard for Scott Morrison to act.

 

[Theme music ends]

 

BETH:
Rachel, last year when the country went into its first national lockdown, the federal government announced a range of income support measures. Can you tell me about them?

 

RACHEL:
Yes. So when the country first went into lockdown together in March 2020, the federal government really ramped up economic support. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Today, I announce that we are committing 130 billion dollars over the next six months. To support the jobs and livelihoods of what we anticipate of being almost six million Australians…”

 

RACHEL:
They introduced something called JobKeeper, the wage support programme, which helped keep people connected to their jobs...

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Today, we are introducing a $1500 per fortnight JobKeeper payment, to keep Australians in their jobs even when the work may dry up…”

 

RACHEL:
...and they also increased income support for those who are unemployed which became JobSeeker. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“The measures will double income support for those on JobSeeker…”

 

RACHEL:
They made childcare free.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“And it's important that all those parents who have children, that they get access to the childcare and…”

 

RACHEL:
And there was also a range of economic measures for businesses totalling close to three hundred billion dollars. And it was aimed at keeping the wheels turning on the economy while everyone was locked down 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“We’ll be supercharging our safety net to preserve the businesses that comprise our economy. So on the other side, they can bounce back strongly.”

 

RACHEL:
That help is really vital and really helped us get through the pandemic and keep people's heads above water while we were locked down and also while we were in a recovery phase. But it didn't take long for that tap to be turned off.

 

BETH:
OK, so what happened then, Rachel? Why did the government stop these economic policies?

 

RACHEL:
So in March this year, the government's position was basically that we'd gotten through the pandemic and it wasn't needed anymore. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“The reality is the JobKeeper payment was always meant to be a temporary one…”

 

RACHEL:
The unemployment numbers were looking OK. Australia had done really well and they were keen to stop spending so much money. And in particular, Morrison was very clear that JobKeeper had to come to an end.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Now I think Australians understand that running say JobKeeper at 11 billio dollars a month is not something that is sustainable.”

 

RACHEL:
The unions were particularly angry about it being cut off, they'd fought really hard for it and as they could see, and as most of us could see, the pandemic was not really over. But the federal government was keen to demonstrate that we were in a new and different phase of the pandemic and that the measures weren’t needed anymore. But I think there was another motive beyond the desire to save money, and it was a political one.

 

BETH:
OK, so, tell me, what was this other motive?

 

RACHEL:
So Morrison didn't want states to have any kind of incentive to lock down. He was desperate for Australia and the economy to open back up. He thought that some states were too quick to lock down and he didn't want to make it easy to go into lockdown. When Victoria went into its fourth lockdown about a month ago. Victoria was calling for some help. And there were sort of comments coming from the federal government that implied they didn't want to incentivise lockdown and that by helping it made lockdown too easy for states to go into, which is a ridiculous position because states don't go into lockdown because they want to or because there’s federal money on offer. The decision to lockdown isn't one decided by economics, it's one decided by epidemiology and by the health advice, and sometimes states will go into lockdown, whether there's help there or not, and all refusing to help them. Does it make it more painful and difficult for the people on the ground.

 

BETH:
All right. So what you're saying is that the federal government approach, at this stage, was essentially to prioritise the budget bottom line over a good health outcome. So what happens then, when states need to go into lockdown without that support from the federal government?

 

RACHEL:
Well, we've seen it a couple of times this year with a few different states going into snap lockdowns and basically people who lose work or people who can't go to work, they just go without. That's what we saw with Victoria. They went into this snap lockdown without support. And it was, it was quite a struggle for workers and businesses. And it was only when it got to that second week when this snap lockdown hadn't worked quickly, that the state government managed to really finally shame the government into helping them. So eventually, the federal government did introduce an income support package of five hundred dollar payments for workers who lost more than 20 hours of work a week and slightly less for those who lost less. But that came with a bunch of restrictions. Workers weren't eligible if they had more than ten thousand dollars in liquid assets, meaning that people were expected to drain their savings before they could get federal help. And the whole thing left a pretty sour taste in the Victorian government's mouth. They had to push really hard for any kind of help at all. And then when it came, it came with a lot of restrictions and limitations. And those tensions got even worse this week when the federal government came forward with an even more comprehensive package for New South Wales to support them in their now extended lockdown, and that's led to allegations of political favouritism from the Victorian government.

 

BETH:
We’ll be right back

 

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BETH:
Rachel, what did the federal government announce this week in terms of support to New South Wales during that lockdown?

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“Good afternoon, everyone, and a particular welcome to the premier and the treasurer of New South Wales. This has been a period of great cooperation between the Commonwealth and the state government…”

 

RACHEL:
So at a press conference with the New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Scott Morrison announced a new Covid-19 support package.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“We've worked together over the course of these last few days to ensure that we can put in place an upgraded response for both individual and business support in the course of this lockdown. As it goes into a protective phase,”

 

RACHEL:
it was going to offer up additional help for individuals, businesses and mental health services in what he called an upgraded set of arrangements for when lockdowns enter a more protracted period.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“...the New South Wales outbreak has proved to be more severe, more dangerous. And it's in the national interest that we now put in place an upgraded set of arrangements for cooperation with the states and territories…”

 

RACHEL:
So there'll be cash payments now for businesses of up to ten thousand dollars per week, and that's going to be split between the state and federal government.

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“What we have decided to do, to go forward into week four, is that those payments will be increased to 600 dollars for those who have lost more than 20 hours.”

 

RACHEL:
But I think the one that really got a lot of attention was the fact that those Covid-19 disaster payments that the Victorian government had to fight really hard for were now going to be upped from 500 to 600 dollars a week for those who lost more than 20 hours. 

 

Archival Tape -- Scott Morrison:
“So to summarise, again, additional support for individuals, additional support for businesses through a new shared programme between the Commonwealth and the state government, and additional support to help people with their mental health as they go through this pandemic lock down. I'll hand you over to the premier…” 

 

BETH:
Right. So, it sounds like it goes a lot further than the support previously offered in the case of Victoria. Has Morrison acknowledged that?

 

RACHEL:
Yes and no. So from the very first time he made a change, he was already pushing back against the idea that this was unequal treatment, pointing out that this extra help only kicks in from week three. And Victoria didn't make it to week three. So he's right in claiming that the actual help received is the same. But people can see that that help wasn't coming for Victoria if it reached week three. He's insisted that the rules are changing, not because it's Sydney that's locked down, but because circumstances warrant it. He said that Covid will set the rules when it's actually him that's setting the rules.

 

BETH:
Hmm. So how has the Victorian government responded to this situation, Rachel? I imagine that they haven't taken it very well.

 

RACHEL:
No, they haven't. 

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“A political war of words. Victoria accusing the Commonwealth of favouring New South Wales.”

  

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Speaker:
“It's gone from gold standard to gold plated support”

 

RACHEL:
They sort of sat quietly when changes were made to the week three payments. But with these week four changes, they've really gone off. They released a statement just an hour afterwards, slamming the move as a disgrace and pointing out the double standards with Victoria having had to beg for a very insubstantial package and seeing the federal government now up it for the New South Wales government. That’s left them, in the words of shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, pretty filthy. 

 

Archival Tape -- Jim Chalmers:
“Victorians have got every right to be unhappy and angry that the Prime Minister and Treasurer are doing more for Sydney than they did for Melbourne not that long ago.”

 

RACHEL:
And the federal government has hit right back at them. The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has accused the Victorian government of being petulant and whingeing.

 

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Reporter:
“The Andrews government says that, quote, If it bothered to think about this and work with Victoria, you would have already had a practical framework in place when Sydney went into lockdown.”

 

Archival Tape -- Josh Frydenberg:
“Well, the Victorian government, unfortunately, is being petulant, childish and playing politics here because the facts tell a very clear story...”

 

BETH:
Mmm. And Rachel, what do you think about this? Do you think it's reasonable for New South Wales to get more support because their outbreak is more severe? Or is it a case of a federal coalition government favouring a state coalition government?

 

RACHEL:
Well, I think it is important to acknowledge that there are double standards here, that the rules have changed suddenly and it didn't look like they were going to change for Victoria. And it's ridiculous for the government to try to pretend that, you know, something hasn't gone on here. But it is also important to note that circumstances really have changed in New South Wales. They're facing potentially a very long lockdown and they really do need the support. 


The changes are warranted, but the thing is, the proper support should have been there in the first place for everyone. I don't think the changes were made because the federal government cares more about New South Wales or because it's run by a coalition government like them, or even because Scott Morrison is from Sydney. It's because the help is now really urgently needed, because the help wasn't there before. And it's not that the federal government didn't want to help Victorians, they didn't want to help anyone, and now circumstances have changed so badly that it's clear to everyone that a lockdown is needed and it's not about incentivising them. It's that when one comes along, you have to have it and the federal government needs to help.

 

BETH:
Rachel, thank you so much for your time. 

 

RACHEL:
Thanks. Beth.

 

[Advertisement]

 

BETH:
Also in the news today…

 

The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, announced a five day lockdown for the entire state on Thursday afternoon, after the number of cases of Covid-19 in the community reached 18. The hard lockdown took effect from midnight Thursday, and will be in place until midnight Tuesday next week.

 

And Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has foreshadowed that National Cabinet will discuss further changes to economic support measures, to assist workers and businesses in locked down states.

 

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Anu Hasbold, Michelle Macklem, Cinnamon Nippard, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon and Alex Gow.

 

Our senior producer is Ruby Schwartz and our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

 

Brian Compeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

 

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Follow on your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out. 

 

I’m Beth Atkinson-Quinton, see ya next week.

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