The federal government expects to lose an upcoming class action against the robodebt scheme and be forced to refund more than 400,000 welfare debts, according to a leaked ministerial submission. The advice, obtained by Guardian Australia, reveals the government plans to settle in the legal fight over $550 million in debts wrongly issued to hundreds of thousands of Australians. Additionally, Services Australia staff are still chasing Australians over potentially unlawful welfare debts despite pledges to dedicate all resources to addressing the huge backlog of new entitlement claims related to COVID-19 shutdown measures. That includes one woman who was asked to provide bank statements from 2014 over an alleged overpayment of $12,000. “I was so surprised they’re bothering chasing that up now, with the literal collapse of their system from the amount of people who need help,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is to take a third emergency stimulus package ($) to the national cabinet meeting this morning, reports The Australian, with the measures to include underwriting the commercial rents, rates, taxes and utility bills of retailers and small businesses. The Morrison government has flagged that it considers residential rent relief to be a state matter. At the meeting, NSW and Victoria are expected to flag “third stage” lockdowns that could see all non-essential workers forced to stay home. The national cabinet will also reconsider potential school closures in term two. State premiers have unveiled plans to keep schools open for the children of essential workers, but most are looking at measures to transition to online learning for the majority of students after the Easter break.
The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre could be repurposed as a temporary intensive care hospital and morgue, as authorities brace for a rise in cases, The Age reports. The Victorian government is preparing contingency plans for up to 2000 intensive care admissions at the peak of the pandemic in late May or early June, but only had about 475 ICU beds before the crisis developed. Wards have been reopened at the old Peter McCallum hospital in East Melbourne and new beds fast-tracked at Casey Hospital in Melbourne’s south-east.
The United States House of Representatives is expected to pass a $US2 trillion ($3.3 trillion) stimulus package on Friday to address the economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions. New unemployment figures reveal about 3.3 million people in the country filed a claim for jobless aid in the week ending March 21, a nearly fivefold increase over the previous record. The country’s COVID-19 infection numbers are growing rapidly, with about 69,200 cases of COVID-19 confirmed and 1046 deaths reported. Despite the growth in infections, US President Donald Trump hopes to lift health safeguards by Easter.