Parliament meets to pass $130b wage scheme

Wage subsidies designed to save six million jobs will be approved by federal parliament as a reduced number of politicians meet in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the $130 billion JobKeeper scheme was the biggest economic lifeline in the nation’s history, designed to protect jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Today is not about ideologies. We check those at the door,” he told parliament.

“Today is about defending and protecting Australia’s national sovereignty.”

Draft laws underpinning the scheme will pass the lower house on Wednesday afternoon before going to the Senate for approval.

Labor will try to amend the bill in the House of Representatives so more casual workers will benefit.

“Many needy Australians will miss out,” Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told the chamber. 

When the bill is voted on in the Senate later in the day, Labor won’t support any amendments not introduced by the opposition, he said.

The Greens will try to change the bill in the Senate so more charities can receive support, and to extend welfare support to people on temporary visas. 

The minor party also wants people on disability support to receive the $550 per fortnight welfare boost.

The Morrison government is refusing to extend the JobKeeper scheme to more than two million casual workers, temporary visa holders and local council employees who will miss out.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says the government won’t accept any amendments to the bill, noting it will support six million Australians.

He said the states were responsible for council workers and reiterated calls for struggling visa workers to pack up and leave.

However, the situation is not that simple for many temporary residents, with flights cancelled, borders closed and some countries made unsafe.

Labor’s Tony Burke was critical of minister Christian Porter’s reluctance to make further changes.

“The Minister for Industrial Relations rather melodramatically the other day described this as the ‘Dunkirk moment’. The challenge in that analogy is that they are still leaving more than a million casuals on the beach,” Mr Burke told parliament.

Unions and the coalition have struck a deal on the measures, with more protections for workers built into the draft laws.

Under the scheme, coronavirus-affected businesses will get $1500 in fortnightly payments to pass on to each employee.

Workers who have their hours cut will be able to request time to work a second job.

The Fair Work Commission will be able to review stand-down periods and employer changes to people’s work location or duties.

Workers can agree to change their days, while bosses could also ask for annual leave to be taken, provided employees have two weeks left over.

Reasonable requests to take annual leave will not be able to be refused.

While unions pushed for changes to be made through the Fair Work Commission, the government will instead legislate temporary amendments to the Fair Work Act.

The government says people who are not eligible for JobKeeper could access welfare benefits.

Labor has also struck a deal to establish a select Senate committee to scrutinise all aspects of the government’s coronavirus response.


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