A special one-day sitting of Federal Parliament today is expected to debate and pass the $130 billion wage subsidy package, with no further scheduled parliamentary dates until August. The legislation allows businesses to use the payments to pay down workers’ annual leave, and to reduce employee hours until their earnings equal the $1500-a-fortnight subsidy. Labor Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will push for the Government to include support for short-term casuals currently excluded from the subsidy, but pledged to support the legislation regardless. He is also pushing for more parliamentary sitting days, and has successfully set up a Senate select committee to scrutinise government policy.
After weeks of sustained pressure from Australians stuck overseas, the federal government is moving to bring home citizens stranded overseas on chartered flights. In Cambodia, the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh is organising a flight home for Australian citizens on Sunday, with 210 seats available and at least 300 people registering for help. The 91 Australians on board a cruise ship off the coast of Uruguay will be flown home on an emergency medical flight on Thursday or Friday, as the number of infected passengers rises to 128. The operator is seeking government support for the flight, which is expected to cost $15,000 per person and will be equipped with medical facilities. Guardian Australia reports that Qantas is yet to get enough volunteers together willing to operate planned rescue flights due to fears of catching the virus, with 50 Qantas and Jetstar staff having contracted it already. Meanwhile, at least 19 people across Australia have been infected with COVID-19 after coming into contact with passengers allowed to disembark from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
More than 400 criminal justice experts and organisations have today published a letter urging federal, state and territory governments to immediately release prisoners where it is safe to do so to avoid outbreaks of COVID-19 in jails and youth detention centres. SBS News reports the letter identified as a top priority the limited release of Indigenous Australians, who account for a quarter of the adult prison population, due to the increased susceptibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the virus. Also recommended for release are older Australians, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, those with pre-existing health issues, women, children, and people with less than six months of their sentences remaining.
COVID-19 infections in the United States continue to grow, with New York state’s 138,836 cases alone overtaking Italy’s total of 135,586. The state lost a new record of 731 people in a 24-hour period, taking the death toll to 5489. In New York City emergency field hospitals are being set up at the Flushing Meadows park where the US Open tennis tournament is held at Queens and also at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in Manhattan. The dean of the cathedral, Clifton Daniel III, noted “traditionally, in earlier centuries, cathedrals were always used this way, like during the Plague”. Tents in Central Park are already housing patients, with the USNS Comfort hospital ship already treating patients from the city.