Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Parliament returns for wage subsidy

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. 


“Paediatrician Dr Paul Bauert is in lockdown, like millions of Australians, although he is working more remotely than most. From his home in Sydney’s inner west, he’s joining daily telemedicine meetings at the Royal Darwin Hospital and offering consultations to paediatric patients in remote Aboriginal communities ... ‘There have been a few glitches,’ he says, ‘mainly due to satellite connections … but at the moment they are few and far between. It’s always at the back of the mind … is everything going to be overloaded?’”


For a single, brief day a small number of members will be socially distanced around the two chambers, their job to rubber stamp Scott Morrison’s JobKeeper package. Any attempt to initiate other business will be regarded as a distraction, almost sabotage – and of course any opposition would be unconscionable. This is the time for sticking together, which for Morrison means others should blindly obey his caprice.”


“If anything, it was not a lack of police powers that was impeding the public health response to coronavirus – it was confusion about messages coming from the government. That confusion is still present and is now criminal. As ever, those punished are more likely to be disadvantaged or marginalised. Police have been offered discretion and they are using it as they always have.”


“Half the nation's businesses have let staff go or cut hours as they succumb to the coronavirus pandemic, with the Reserve Bank warning unemployment is headed for its highest level in ‘many years’. As new surveys showed a surge in consumer confidence due to the Morrison government's $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy plan and a collapse in spending through the country's malls, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the human impact of the pandemic.”


“If the old saying ‘never waste a crisis’ holds true, then there are plenty of problems we could use the covid-19 pandemic to fix. Casualisation of the workforce, strengthening automatic stabilisers, boosting the safety net, better managing household debt, increasing trust in institutions and strengthening the Federation are at the top of that list. The government’s rhetoric of a ‘snap back’ to normal times shouldn’t be used as political cover for ignoring these problems.”


“Whether it’s from allergies, dust, or a cold, sneezes are a universal experience. The way we express them, though, is very much dependent on the language we speak. ‘Achoo!’ is the verbalization favored by those who speak English, while ‘Atchoum!’ is typically used by French speakers. People whose first language is Japanese will exclaim ‘Hakashun!’—and those are just a few examples.”

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