Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Businesses race to join wage scheme

Business and union leaders have broadly welcomed the Federal Government’s $130 billion wage-subsidy scheme, but there are concerns that it excludes some casual workers and comes too late. More than 8000 employers have already signed up to the scheme, which will provide a flat $1500-a-fortnight payment to businesses and not-for-profits meeting thresholds for income lost to COVID-19 restrictions, to be paid on to employees. Australian Small Business Ombudsman Kate Carnell said the scheme would “ensure small businesses stay connected with their staff” and could bring them back on board when normal conditions return. Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O'Neil told SBS News she was concerned that payments excluded casual workers who hadn’t been with an employer for 12 months, and the money would only begin to be paid from the first week of May, although it would be backdated to March 1. There are also concerns companies may be incentivised to keep workers in idle areas rather than move them to areas of potential growth.  

Australians now face some of the heaviest fines in the world for breaching social distancing rules, as most states and territories begin enforcing new punitive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 from today. There are two sets of fines, with the first covering social distancing rules such as gathering in groups of more than two people. In New South Wales the fine is up to $11,000, in Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania it is $1000, while for Victoria it is $1652 and for Queensland $1334. Heavier fines will apply to individuals breaching quarantine, such as travellers returning from overseas or interstate, with up to a $62,000 penalty for the Northern Territory, $50,000 or a year in jail in WA, up to $25,000 in SA, a $19,826 fine in Victoria, $11,000 fine and up to six months’ jail time in NSW, $13,345 in Queensland, and $8000 for offenders in the Australian Capital Territory. Businesses face higher fines for breaches.

Health workers in India are turning hoses onto migrant workers to spray them with disinfectant, as a 21-day lockdown disrupts the lives of day laborers. Unable to work and often living in their workplaces, thousands of migrant laborers have returned to their home villages, with at least 22 people dying on journeys on foot back home that can stretch for thousands of kilometres. The country has reported 901 cases of COVID-19 and 27 deaths. With threats that people breaking the lockdown may be shot on sight or beaten by police, hundreds of Australian travellers stuck in India are asking for government assistance to return. 

The rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will run from July 23 to August 8 in 2021, shifting to the same time of year from the original schedule for the Games, which were due to start on July 24 this year. “A certain amount of time is required for the selection and qualification of athletes and for their training and preparation, and the consensus was that staging the rescheduled Games during the summer vacation in Japan would be preferable,” said Tokyo 2020 president Yoshirō Mori.


“At 7am on Wednesday, Jane Halton received a text message from one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers. She says it gave her goosebumps. The group, based in London, had been following developments at the University of Queensland (UQ), where researchers have created a potential vaccine for the deadly coronavirus that has caused a pandemic. ‘They said, “What would it take to manufacture that vaccine?”’”


“Scott Morrison’s national cabinet is working pretty well so far. There is contention – some premiers, notably Daniel Andrews in Victoria and Gladys Berejiklian in New South Wales – reckon the Commonwealth is dragging its feet … Anthony Albanese has made it clear that he feels snubbed, and that the rejection has more to do with partisan politics than considered policy. But he is not pushing his case too hard, perhaps because he knows his history. There is a precedent: the Labor government took precisely the same approach in World War Two.”


“Susan Provan has two laughs. The first is an oh-yes-that’s-good-gear chuckle; low energy. Laugh number two is louder, still contained, a near-guffaw when something’s tickled her. Mid-strength cheer. She’s not a bellower. She generally keeps her shit together, which is handy because she has been director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) for an astonishing 27 years. A very big laugher likely wouldn’t last long in this role.”


“Australia's largest single fiscal stimulus package in history could save between 66 and 80 per cent of the forecast collapse in gross domestic product, economists say in very early estimates. ‘When the house is on fire you save the furniture,’ Commonwealth Bank chief economist Michael Blythe said. ‘And I would say this goes a fair way in filling the hole that some have expected would be left in GDP from the virus.’”


“The interest rate the Australian government pays on new debt is at its lowest level in history — just 0.8 per cent for money borrowed for ten years. Households and businesses can only dream of being able to borrow that cheaply. This is why it makes perfect sense for the burden of stimulating the economy to be placed on the government since it can borrow so much more easily and cheaply than households or businesses. This is also why it makes no sense to be asking households to access their superannuation.”


“An Australian astrophysicist has been admitted to hospital after getting four magnets stuck up his nose in an attempt to invent a device that stops people touching their faces during the coronavirus outbreak. Dr Daniel Reardon, a research fellow at Melbourne’s Swinburne University, was building a necklace that sounds an alarm on facial contact, when the mishap occurred on Thursday night.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.