Hey, do you want to know what can be worse than getting COVID? Having rent that’s too high, needing food that’s too expensive, working casual shifts during a multidemic, getting COVID, and then finding out that the government doesn’t have your back. Unfortunately, too many Aussies were in this situation earlier this year. This is because on June 30, the COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment scheme temporarily ended.
To catch you all up to speed, the COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment scheme is a stash of cash for folks that can’t work due to getting the dreaded spicy cough. These $750-a-week payments can help these people out while they’re isolating. It is meant for those of us who don’t have any sick leave available through their employer.
Now, the timing of this scheme ending was rather rubbish. Thanks to the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5, we were on the precipice of another COVID wave. These two versions of the virus are to this day, more infectious, better at evading vaccine immunity, and have a greater chance of reinfecting someone who’s already had said illness.
However, following a snap cabinet meeting, our Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese on July 16 announced the payments would be reinstated until September 30. They were made available from July 20 and could be backdated to the start of that month.
These payments are also available to those who need to stay at home to care for someone who is unwell with COVID, such as a person with a disability or children under the age of 16.
“I want to make sure that people aren’t left behind, that vulnerable people are looked after and that no-one is faced with the unenviable choice of not being able to isolate properly without losing an income and without being put in a situation that is very difficult,” he said after a national cabinet meeting on Saturday.
Initially, the meeting was to be held on Monday, July 18. The ABC had reported that the attendees of the meeting might discuss whether or not the COVID-19 Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment scheme should be reinstated.
Moreover, as of September 14, the government decided to extend this scheme past the end of this month. A media release by Albanese declared, “The payment will remain available for as long as mandatory isolation periods are applied by all States and Territories.”
The Government’s Original Position
As previously noted, there was a two week period in June where the Federal Government wasn’t giving out these payments. Additionally, according to the Nine Network, these politicians had stated that it wouldn’t budge on this issue. On July 11, instead of owning up to its decision, Labor passed the buck. Mark Butler, the Federal Health Minister, said, “This payment was designed and budgeted by the former government and all state governments to come to an end on June 30.”
He also stated, “If we extended these for a couple of months, we would have had this discussion at that time. These are hard decisions you have to make when you’re $1 trillion in debt.”
Albanese also defended the decision not to reinstate the payments at an earlier date, stating he was following the timeline laid out by the previous government.
“We didn’t make the decision, the former government did in consultation with the states and territories. When the health circumstances changed, we’ve responded,” he said.
“We’ve responded collectively — the Commonwealth with states and territories — and that is appropriate.”
At this time, a lot of people were calling for the Disaster Payment scheme to be extended. For instance, The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Liam O’Brien explained to Yahoo Finance Australia that this call would have encouraged some people to work while they’re sick, resulting in even more folks becoming ill.
He said, “If governments are asking people to isolate, then the Federal Government needs to support them to ensure they are not missing out on pay and falling behind on their bills while they do that.”
Another person who voiced their concern is Fynn Barker, a cook at Small Time Group pizzeria in Melbourne. He outlined to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Inflation and electricity prices are high, my bills have nearly doubled this month, and rent’s gone up as well.” Barker also noted, “Missing a week of work would put me in a pretty tough spot.”
It’s therefore a relief that the Federal Government listened to its constituents and drastically changed its set course. Doing so legit saved lives, kept people employed, and prevented this year’s winter from being even more gruesome.