The Victorian government announced a $250 million business support package over the weekend, designed to help affected businesses push through the state’s circuit breaker lockdown.
Announced by Acting Premier James Merlino on Sunday, the package aims to help 90,000 small to medium sized businesses and sole traders. It was announced three days after the state government imposed a 7-day circuit breaker lockdown in the wake of this latest COVID-19 outbreak.
In his press conference, Merlino was up front with Victorians, telling them that the federal government had refused to offer financial support this time around.
“Victorian workers need support and that is where we needed Canberra to come to the table, and I am very sorry to say that they have refused to do that,” Merlino said.
“We asked multiple times, multiple times, for the federal government to support workers during this period and the unrelenting answer has been, no.
“Victorian workers deserve more from the federal government and I am beyond disappointed that the answer from the Prime Minister and the Treasurer has been no.”
This is the fourth lockdown endured by Victorians in just over a year, and this time, it’s becoming clear that issues the federal government is responsible for, like the slow vaccine rollout, and Australia’s imperfect quarantine system, are largely to blame.
Last week, just before the lockdown was announced, physician and health commentator Dr Norman Swan tweeted, “The complacency over hotel quarantine is scientifically and economically unsustainable. One leak and a state might be shut down.”
The complacency over hotel quarantine is scientifically and economically unsustainable. One leak and a state might be shut down.— Norman Swan (@normanswan) May 26, 2021
Repeated outbreaks from hotel quarantine, and our lack of purpose-built quarantine facilities, will continue to make it challenging for Australia to fully open up, leaving the economy and Australians’ health and livelihoods at risk.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly told Australians “it’s not a race” when it comes to getting vaccinated and the federal government has not rolled out the inoculations against COVID-19 fast enough to avoid outbreaks in the community.
When the lockdown was imposed last Thursday, there were still 9 aged care facilities in the state that had not been vaccinated. Across the country, there were still 74 facilities unvaccinated. While Health Minister Greg Hunt told Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 the facilities in Victoria would be prioritised and vaccinated quickly, the glacial rollout had left some of our most vulnerable people exposed to the threat to the virus.
On Friday, journalist and host of Sunrise Natalie Barr called out Greg Hunt over the federal government’s rhetoric around telling Australians it’s not a race to get vaccinated. Barr fact-checked some of the claims the Prime Minister has made in recent months about vaccinations, and said there was a false sense of security in the community because of how well Australia has handled the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas doubled down on Merlino’s scathing words about the federal government, telling reporters at a press conference on Sunday that he was disappointed by the lack of response and tangible support.
“It would be really good if the self-styled party of the workers actually did some work for working people and provided them with the assistance that they need, indeed, that they require,” Pallas said.
“I am angry and I am disappointed.
“They like to pride themselves on being the party of the forgotten people…well, the people they have seem to have forgotten is Victorians and in particular Victorian workers.”
With the JobKeeper wage subsidy now over, and the rate of JobSeeker sitting below the poverty line, support from the federal government, especially for Victorians doing it tough, is sorely needed. An efficient and confident vaccination program, and an expansion of purpose-built quarantine facilities are the path forward in this pandemic.
The federal government needs to acknowledge this reality, and do what needs to be done so Australia is not left behind as other parts of the world move forward.