Billions in support coming for families, businesses

BILLIONS of dollars in safety net support to help households pay for essential items such as food and rent is being developed by the Federal Government as it moves to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Federal Cabinet is moving away from the term "stimulus" as it shifts the economic focus to ensuring people can pay essential bills ahead of more Australians being grounded and losing work due to the coronavirus.


The Government is also likely to today announce new limits on the number of people who can congregate at indoor locations - like cafes and pubs - plus reveal tighter controls for aged care facilities.

As few as 100 people may now be allowed in some indoor sites.

The extra economic support to be announced - on top of the $17.6 billion already announced by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg - will also be directed at business, many of them now on life support.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said yesterday the crisis was fast-moving.

"Indeed businesses will close and Australians will lose their jobs," Senator Cormann said.

"We are aware of the challenges, we are aware of what is in front of us.

Senator Mathias Cormann
Senator Mathias Cormann

"That is why we are very carefully considering how we can get the necessary support to get Australians through this period.

"We want as many Australians as possible to remain in their job.

"And indeed for those who do lose their jobs - to find employment elsewhere in sectors in the economy that are doing better than before.

"But there will be a limit to that and that is why we are very conscious of the fact that we need to provide the appropriate levels of support through our income support system."

Meanwhile, 600 businesses surveyed by Roy Morgan declared they believed the economy was in recession, with 70 per cent of them in Queensland.

Qantas will slash its domestic capacity by 60 per cent and chop its international flights by 90 per cent until the end of May, sparking unions to call on the Government to save aviation workers.

Grounded Qantas planes at Sydney Airport
Grounded Qantas planes at Sydney Airport

The Reserve Bank of Australia is likely to announce tomorrow it will use its reserves to buy government bonds to help pump more money into the economy.

It comes as the federal public service yesterday revealed it would provide about 8000 casuals with paid leave if they contract coronavirus or are forced to self-isolate.

It sets the scene for further economy-wide support for casuals, many who are employed in industries hardest hit by the virus.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham did not rule out government bailouts for airlines, but the industry was not asking for that yet.

"They believe that they are viable, that they have strong cash positions in the airlines, but we want to make sure we maintain that confidence in the airlines," he said.



"A strong airline sector is not negotiable in terms of being a part of Australia's recovery for the future."

He said there were also consultations with regional carriers, including in Far North Queensland.

"It's important that not only do we maintain the viability of airlines overall and their importance for the tourism industry, but also that we recognise the crucial role airlines play in terms of social connectivity into remote regions and into regional communities and the critical services that are delivered through those airlines. And so that is being monitored," Senator Birmingham said.

Parliament is due to sit next week for the last time until the Budget but the number of MPs required to pass stimulus and other economic support will be dramatically reduced.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham

After a meeting yesterday, Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese determined only 90 MPs would be required in the House of Representatives - allowing about 60 to stay away. The number of senators will also be reduced.

Yesterday, a spokesman for One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson told The Courier-Mail they would expecting to pair their votes with the Government on critical economic legislation.



Health Minister Greg Hunt, who announced further coronavirus telehealth services, dismissed the idea of widespread, Europe-like lockdowns.

"One of the things we're looking at and balancing, and I think it is very important to explain to this Australians, is to make sure that, as we help stop the spread through our individual actions as well as our Government decisions and our collective actions, we are not making the problem worse by destroying the capacity for our health workers, our medical workers, of having an impact on supplies for food and other things,'' Mr Hunt said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt

Mr Hunt said the Government was in "advanced discussions" to ensure local businesses could manufacture crucial medical supplies.

"We are looking at lots of different options for production.

"We're in advanced discussions on a variety of fronts, including masks and potentially there is a role for test kits, so as we're not just relying on international sources and international imports.

"But we are ramping up our domestic production of critical supplies."

Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said yesterday there needed to be more testing for the virus.

"There's one overriding principle we should apply. We can't get to the other side of this and ask 'could we have done more? Could we have acted sooner? Could we have taken bigger steps?' " Mr Bowen said.


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