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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Pressure mounts on new Govt over planned halt of COVID payments

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Pressure is mounting on the Federal Government to reinstate pandemic leave payments for workers needing to isolate ahead of a snap national cabinet meeting next week.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be briefed by the chief medical officer when he returns to Australia from the Pacific Islands Forum this afternoon. 

Albanese maintains the $750 payment will not return after it ceased on June 30, citing pressures on the federal budget.

In the face of this crisis, we need to recognise that people’s circumstances can be very different, and it is important to use these tools to ease the burden on people who can least afford to cope with increasing exposure to COVID infections.

Consumers Health Forum chief, Leanne Wells

The free rapid test program and long telehealth phone consults are also coming to an end. 

But state leaders, as well as federal Labor backbenchers, have advocated for the payments to be extended amid rising case numbers stemming from the virus.

With an expected winter surge ahead, consumer health advocates say it is not the right time to stop emergency support. 

“In the face of this crisis, we need to recognise that people’s circumstances can be very different, and it is important to use these tools to ease the burden on people who can least afford to cope with increasing exposure to COVID infections,” Consumers Health Forum chief Leanne Wells said.

State and territory leaders will meet with the PM on Monday for a national cabinet meeting where the fresh Omicron wave will be discussed.

Albanese said there were many workplaces that were already offering paid leave to employees having to isolate due to COVID-19.

“The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case,” he told reporters on Friday.

“The (pandemic leave) payments were put in place by the former Government with an end date, a decision they made at the time.”

Ahead of the national cabinet meeting, the prime minister said he was confident leaders would be able to work together constructively.

Liberal premiers Dominic Perrottet, from NSW, and Tasmania’s Jeremy Rockliff have called for the payments to be extended through the current wave of COVID-19 cases.

Federal Labor MP Mike Freelander broke ranks from his party on Thursday, urging the prime minister to extend the support measures, with fellow backbencher Michelle Ananda-Rajah following suit.

I would like the Government to advise Australians of … why they thought it was a good idea now to remove these particular supports at the same time they’re telling Australians we’re about to be hit by another very serious wave of the virus.

Opposition health spokeswoman, Anne Ruston

Health Minister Mark Butler said the Government was closely monitoring the situation, but indicated large payouts needed to end following the withdrawal of mandates surrounding the pandemic.

“There’s no end to the list of worthy, important things we could be spending the money on in the health portfolio, but there is an end to the money,” he told ABC radio on Friday.

“The Australian community understands, and indeed wants, the country to move to a new phase in confronting this pandemic.”

The opposition has accused Labor of hypocrisy for not extending the payments.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said clarity was needed.

“I would like the Government to advise Australians of … why they thought it was a good idea now to remove these particular supports at the same time they’re telling Australians we’re about to be hit by another very serious wave of the virus,” she told ABC radio.

Australia recorded more than 43,000 cases and 66 deaths on Friday and there are 4602 people in hospital with the virus.  

LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA

Victoria: 10,584 cases, 17 deaths, 749 in hospital with 35 in ICU

NSW: 12,228 cases, 14 deaths, 2027 in hospital with 60 in ICU

Tasmania: 1727 cases, one death, 133 in hospital with six in ICU

Queensland: 6336 cases, 20 deaths, 907 in hospital with 14 in ICU

WA: 6458 cases, eight deaths, 333 in hospital with 16 in ICU

SA: 4453 cases, six deaths, 266 in hospital with eight in ICU

ACT: 1208 cases, no deaths, 135 in hospital with four in ICU

NT: 494 cases, no deaths, 52 in hospital with one in ICU

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