Anger at COVID support cuts as peak nears

Dominic Giannini |

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie accuses the federal government of “dreadful penny pinching”.
ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie accuses the federal government of “dreadful penny pinching”.

There is cautious optimism the current Omicron outbreak will not get much worse as health authorities predict the case peak is not far off, but concerns remain over financial help for impacted Australians.

Changes to the pandemic leave disaster payment are due to come into effect on Tuesday, a move that could cost Australians hundreds of dollars in support, according to the Australian Council of Social Service. 

CEO Cassandra Goldie said it was “dreadful penny pinching” from the federal government, reducing weekly payments from $750 to $450 for people doing 19 hours or less of work per week, and removing it entirely for those doing under eight.

“Not only do people need to deal with the stress of contracting the virus and worry of transmitting it to their loved ones, but many will also now receive less or no income support because of this,” she said.

“Rather than cutting the payment at the height of the pandemic, we urge the government to expand it.”

Dr Goldie says one-in-four people on income support are working paid jobs but would not qualify for the payment if they caught COVID.

“It should also be extended to people who receive income support if they test positive to COVID, must look after a loved one with COVID or are a close contact and must isolate.”

ACOSS also wants the removal of the liquid assets tests and a doubling of the timeframe applicants can claim their support to 28 days.

Minister for Emergency Management Bridget McKenzie said the changes would ensure the payment remained targeted and available for those who need it most.

Cases have began to plateau in some parts of the country and the South Australian premier says the state has likely reached its peak, providing residents continued COVID-safe behaviour.

Steven Marshall said the fact more people were recovering from the virus each day compared to new cases was another indication the state was at or near its peak.

The plateauing in cases was also referenced by Health Minister Greg Hunt, who said there are clear signs new infections are flatlining in NSW and the ACT.

Both the Victorian and Queensland chief health officers also predicted an imminent peak of cases, noting the hospitalisation peak would lag by around two weeks.

Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says while it’s hard to read daily case numbers with disruptions on weekends and rapid antigen tests added to the data, the number of new infections seems to be settling.

Unions have also reiterated their call for the federal government and workplaces to provide free rapid antigen tests and will write to employers requesting Omicron risk assessments.

Unions are also reserving their rights to cease work or ban unsafe practices if employers fail to act.

There were more than 70,000 new infections across the country on Monday, with 29,504 in NSW, 22,429 in Victoria, 15,122 in Queensland, 3829 in South Australia, 1601 in the ACT, 1037 in Tasmania, 284 in the Northern Territory and 12 in Western Australia. 

More than one-in-four Australians over the age of 18 have had their booster shot and one-in-seven aged between five and 11 were jabbed in the first week of eligibility.