Scott Morrison could not have been clearer: ‘Australia is on the road back’. Picture: Supplied
Scott Morrison could not have been clearer: ‘Australia is on the road back’. Picture: Supplied

PM gives update on economy, possible ease of restrictions

The Prime Minister and Treasurer are giving an update on the coronavirus, with a particular focus on the economic measures the government has put in place.

"We have always been fighting this battle on two fronts - the health front, and the economic front. Both of those issues have been considered equally," Scott Morrison said.

"We are getting, obviously, good news on the health front. Yesterday we had just four cases, a rate of growth of 0.22 per cent. Those sort of figures were unimaginable weeks ago, and they are being achieved because of the patience and discipline and efforts of the Australian people across the country.

"We are on the road back.

"We're on the way back to a COVID-safe economy as well. We are building the protections for this COVID-safe economy."

Mr Morrison foreshadowed a possible easing of some virus-related restrictions three weeks from now, should the medical advice allow it.

"In three weeks, we will be moving on the baseline restrictions, after considering this further information from the health advisers," he said.

"And states, also, are already moving where they have gone beyond the baseline restrictions in scaling that back, and we expect to see more of that in the weeks ahead."

THIS CAN HAPPEN HERE

The Prime Minister did have some important words of caution, despite those good numbers across the country at the moment.

"Let's not get complacent while our numbers are good," he said.

"One number that is never good is the fact that 75 Australians have passed away."

Mr Morrison then highlighted a long list of other countries who are struggling, and said Australia could end up in the same situation if it gets too complacent.

"As sad as that is for those families, let's not forget that in countries that are smaller than Australia, like Belgium - 6262 people have died. In the Netherlands, 4678 have died. In Sweden 8137 people have died.

"If you look at the fatality rates as a proportion of population, in the United States it is almost 50 times higher than Australia. In France it is over 100 times higher than Australia. In the United Kingdom also, just under 100 times higher. In Germany it is over 20 times higher. In Switzerland it is over 60 times higher. Denmark over 20. Italy 12.

"These are all sophisticated, developed economies with good health systems. This can happen in Australia if we are not careful, and that is why Australians and our governments have been so careful."

UPDATE ON ECONOMIC MEASURES

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has given an update on the take-up of the government's economic relief measures.

"Two weeks ago, the largest economic lifeline that this country has ever seen passed the parliament," he said.

"We're now firmly in the implementation phase, and providing that support to millions of Australians."

So, let's run through some of the numbers.

The Australian Tax Office has approved 456,000 applications for early access to superannuation, totalling $3.8 billion. The average withdrawal is "around $8000".

'YOU NEED TO PAY YOUR STAFF'

"Those applications are now with the superannuation funds for their payment over the next five days," he said.

The ATO has dished out $3 billion to 177,000 businesses, which employ 2.1 million Australians, through its measures to boost cash flow.

Mr Frydenberg said the ATO had done "an outstanding job" paying out that support "ahead of what they thought would be the start date on April 28".

The $750 cash payments to pensioners, carers, people on the disability support pension and family tax benefits have gone out to 6.8 million people, totalling $5.1 billion.

More than 900,000 businesses have registered their interest in accessing the government's JobKeeper payment, and 275,000 of them have already filled in formal applications.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also revealed he spoke to the four big bank CEOs on a phone hook-up this morning. Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan was also on the call.

They discussed one very important issue.

Businesses are required to pay their employees wages before they actually receive the money from the JobKeeper payment. Which means many of them need access to finance from the banks. For some of them, it's taking too long to get that finance.

"We're very conscious, very conscious of the fact that the banks are playing a vitally important role in bridging the finance that these businesses need to pay their staff ahead of receiving the first payment in the first week of May," Mr Frydenberg said.

"It was a very productive discussion. And we emphasised the need for the banks to provide support to those businesses.

"They have agreed to set up, each of these four major banks, a dedicated hotline for their customers to call to receive the bridging finance necessary to pay their staff, ahead of receiving that money under the JobKeeper program.

"Importantly, they have also agreed to expedite the processing of all those applications to the front of the queue.

"So our message today is, if you are a business or a not-for-profit that is eligible for the JobKeeper payment, as required, you need to pay your staff ahead of receiving the money from the Tax Office.

"Go to your bank. Ring their hotline. Ask for that support. And that support with be forthcoming."

 

PM ADDRESSES PRIVACY CONCERNS

Asked about the government's proposed coronavirus tracing app, Scott Morrison once again tried to allay people's fears about privacy.

"I want to be clear about, again, what this is. This is a tool, a public health tool, to assist health officers and state and territory governments, when someone has contracted the coronavirus, to assist them in that work to contact others who may have been put at risk," Mr Morrison said.

"That's what we're trying to do here. That protects every Australian. Every Australian will be safer if those health officers are able to contact you more quickly if you have been exposed to the coronavirus and, importantly, that means that you will be less at risk of infecting others if they can get to you fast.

"You want to help nurses, you want to help paramedics, you want to help doctors and say thank you for the great job they're doing? Then you can help them, by supporting and downloading the app which will be released soon."

He stressed that any information collected by the app would go into a "fully encrypted" national data store, and the federal government would have no access to it.

"The commonwealth government has no access whatsoever to the information into that data store. None. Zero. Zip. Nothing. That information can only be unlocked by the health officer at the state and territory level in direct communication with the person who has contracted the coronavirus.

"That's how it works. It's got one job. Just one job. We're not having it do other jobs. It will never do other jobs."



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