Making it Easier for Charities to Access JobKeeper

Charities that are registered with the national regulator will be eligible for the Morrison Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper Payment if they have suffered a 15 per cent decline in turnover as a result of the coronavirus.

Legislation to be introduced into the Parliament this week will include a concessional test for ACNC registered charities given the benefit they provide to the Australian community.

A reduced threshold at which a charity is considered to be substantially affected by the coronavirus, as compared to businesses and other not-for-profits, will support a sector which is expected to have a significant increase in demand for its services.

There are more than 57,000 charities employing more than 1.3 million Australians registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, providing services ranging from mental health support to access to food for vulnerable Australians.

The reduced threshold follows conversations with the charity sector including ACOSS, the Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services Australia.

The JobKeeper payment will provide around 6 million workers a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer.

The $1,500 payment is the equivalent of around 70 per cent of the national median wage.

Every arm of government and industry is working to keep Australians in jobs and businesses in business, and to build a bridge to recovery on the other side.

The Government will continue to do what it takes to ensure that Australia bounces back stronger.

Eligible businesses and charities can apply for the payment online and are able to register their interest via ato.gov.au

NDIS Participants To Receive Priority Home Delivery From Leading Supermarkets

A new service to be launched tomorrow will see NDIS participants receive priority home delivery during the coronavirus pandemic from some of the country’s biggest supermarkets.

Following close collaboration between the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and leading supermarkets, the new Priority Home Delivery Service will ease the stress for over 340,000 NDIS participants who are unable to do their shopping in their usual way.

From tomorrow (Monday, 6 April), every NDIS participant will receive an individual code via SMS or email which will give them access to the priority delivery offer. Upon completing an online shopping order, participants will be prompted to enter their code when choosing the home delivery option.

Minister Robert said the service is another example of how the Government is collaborating with the private sector to develop whole-of-society efforts to help Australians in need and comes as the NDIA continues to implement its NDIS Pandemic Plan.

‘The Priority Home Delivery Service will help hundreds of thousands of NDIS participants across the country access everyday items through an option that removes personal health risks and great stress associated with going shopping in the current environment,’ Mr Robert said.

‘I thank those supermarkets for delivering this service as it will be a great help to hundreds of thousands of Australians and their families.

‘The Morrison Government is committed to ensure the well-being of Australians with disability are considered as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds. Our priority during this period is doing what we can to support the immediate needs of NDIS participants, including through enabling priority home delivery of groceries and other basic essentials.

‘The NDIS is one of the most important social and economic reforms in our country’s history, and is already significantly improving the lives of people with disability and their families. This is another example of how we are working to improve the level of support provided, with more choice and control for participants.’

For more information, including a list of participating supermarket retailers, please visit www.ndis.gov.au.

For more information on the Australian Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, visit www.australia.gov.au.

Supporting the Agriculture Workforce During COVID-19

The Federal Liberal and Nationals Government is making temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access the workforce they need to secure Australia’s food and produce supply during COVID-19.

The changes allow those within the Pacific Labour Scheme, Seasonal Worker Program and working holiday makers to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the Government was protecting the health of Australians by supporting businesses, providing job opportunities and securing our food supply.

“We can’t afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines and vegetables left unpicked. It is vital our farmers maximise their hard work and economic returns,” Minister McCormack said.

“We are acting to enable seasonal workers to extend their stay and remain lawfully in Australia until they are able to return to their home countries.

“The agriculture sector relies on an ongoing workforce and we are committed to providing the means for that to continue while ensuring strict health and safety measures are adhered to, including visa holders following self-isolation requirements when they move between regions.”

Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud said workforce requirements for agriculture change within and across states as different crops are ready for harvest.

“It is essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs,” Minister Littleproud said.

“At the same time it is critical we manage this labour force to support the on-going health of regional communities.

“We are working closely with State and Territory Governments and industry to ensure appropriate health controls are in place for the ongoing health and well-being of our regional communities.”

There are tough rules to ensure that COVID-19 is not transported to regional and rural communities that have thankfully not experienced the same level transmission.

Before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days and register at the Australia.gov.au website. Those who do not comply will face having their visas cancelled.

The National Farmers Federation has developed best practice guidance for farmers regarding requirements for the living and working arrangements for farm workers (either domestic or migrant) during the covid-19 outbreak.

“We have asked the Chief Medical Officer to review these guidelines and it is critical that they are then considered by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Sadly, there’s been a significant number of Australians who’ve lost their jobs due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

“I know some farmers have seen strong interest from job ads and we are keeping market testing requirements in place to ensure recruitment of Australians first.

“We are well positioned with the decisions we’ve taken today to ensure that critical industries, such as agriculture, are well supported during this time and that Australia remains positioned to produce the food we need.”

Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge said agriculture is an essential sector and it relies on temporary visa holders, many who arrive and depart Australia on a seasonal basis.

“These visa holders fill a critical workforce gap in this sector,” Minister Tudge said.

“That is why the Government is putting temporary measures in place to allow important work in the agriculture sector to continue.

“We are giving certainty to our agriculture workforce so they can get food from farms to our shops and ensure critical services continue.”

The conditions under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa arrangements will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, continuing the strong links between Pacific seasonal workers and their employers.

These changes complement and are in addition to additional measures for temporary visa holders announced by Minister Tudge.

Key Facts

  • Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme workers can extend their stay for up to 12 months to work for approved employers (ensuring pastoral care and accommodation needs of workers are met to minimise health risks to visa holders and the community).
  • Approved employers under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme will need to continue engaging with the Department of Education, Skills and Employment on labour market testing to ensure recruitment of Australians first.
  • Working Holiday Makers (WHMs) who work in agriculture or food processing will be exempt from the six month work limitation with the one employer and eligible for a further visa to keep working in these critical sectors if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.
  • Conditions will be placed upon visa holders to self-isolate for 14 days before taking up employment in a different region (including termination of visas where there is non-compliance).
  • To support implementation of self-isolation arrangements for visa holders and avoid spread of COVID-19 the government is working with states and territories on enforcement and sanction mechanisms.
  • Employers will need to commit to providing safe accommodation for agricultural workers that complies with social distancing requirements.
  • Arrangement will also need to be in place for a declaration between employers and employees that all protocols necessary to ensure human health and accommodation requirements have been met.

Temporary Visa Holders: Greens

The government’s response to temporary visa holders in Australia is cruel and callous, Greens Immigration and Citizenship spokesperson Nick McKim says.

“Temporary visa holders are guests in our country and many have lost jobs and income. They need genuine income support right now,” Senator McKim said.

“The government is turning its back on people in their hour of need, just as it has done to people seeking asylum for years.”

“Not all temporary visa holders have the financial capacity to simply leave. For them this is a sentence to poverty and hunger.”

“This decision will have serious public health implications. How can we ask people to self isolate without income and in some cases without a home?”

“We would expect other countries to look after Australians stuck there, and we should do the same for their people.”

International Students Abandoned In Heartless Visa Announcement

Australian Greens Senator for NSW and Education spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has said that the federal government has abandoned international students to the risk of poverty and homelessness. Today the government confirmed it would provide no financial support for international student visa holders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Faruqi has called for income support for international students during the COVID-19 crisis.

Senator Faruqi said:

“In this pandemic, international students have lost their jobs, found themselves unable to pay rent or put food on the table, and face living in squalid conditions.

“Hundreds of international students have contacted me over the last few days to share their stories of unemployment, financial stress and precarious living situations.

“Now, the government has confirmed they will not lift a finger to support these hundreds of thousands of students who we welcomed into our country and whose fees and work we’ve all benefited from.

“International students contribute enormously to the Australian community. But the government has abandoned them completely.

“The government must extend the Coronavirus Supplement to international students and make JobKeeper payments available to them as well.

“Minister Tudge says students should look to family support to get them through this. But many of these students come from countries also severely impacted by the pandemic, where lockdowns and health crises have resulted in business closures and losses of income. Family support can no longer be relied upon.

“If we truly are all in this together, then the ‘all’ must include international students in strife.

“We are at risk of a serious humanitarian crisis if the government does not step in and support international students as a matter of urgency,” she said.

National Advisory Group a big win for disability community

Australian Greens Disability spokesperson Senator Jordon Steele-John has labelled Health Minister Greg Hunt’s announcement of the establishment of a National Advisory Group to guide development and implementation of a response plan focusing on the unique health needs of disabled people a “huge win” for the community.

“This is what the Greens, Australia’s peak disability advocacy organisations and the community have been calling for for weeks. This National advisory group should have been started weeks ago but the reality is that now they’ll be forced to play catch up,” Steele-John said.

“We don’t have any more time to waste. Disabled people need a dedicated and natinonally coordinated stategy now to ensure that they have the information and support they need to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So far the government has failed to actively include us from the response to COVID-19 and this has caused significant anxiety and concern amongst our community.

“Today, more than 70 of Australia’s disability organisation and advocacy bodies released a statement calling for ten urgent actions to be taken to address the impacts of COVID-19 on disabled people, our families and our support networks.

“I’m calling on the National Advisory Group tomeet urgently and consider these ten action points to ensure that disabled people, our families and our support networks can have the information and support we need to get through this COVID-19 crisis.”

Update on Coronavirus Measures

Australian governments met today as the National Cabinet to take further action to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives, and to save livelihoods.

We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives.

We need to ensure Australia keeps functioning, to keep Australians in jobs.

The Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway on the latest data and medical advice in relation to coronavirus.

There are more than 5,315 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 27 people have died.

Testing keeps Australians safe. Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world with more than 270,000 tests completed.

It is clear the epidemiology curve is beginning to flatten. But it is too early to determine whether such movements will be significant or sustained.

Leaders thanked all Australians who have acted responsibly towards their fellow Australians and have been undertaking social distancing and isolation measures.

These measures are helping to slow the spread of the virus, ensure the strength of our health system and save lives.

National Cabinet stressed the critical importance of continuing to adhere to self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine arrangements for returned travellers. Leaders also highlight the importance of people who are self-isolating registering on the COVID-19 app.

National Cabinet noted that Australia was now in the suppression phase of the response, which will last for some time. Restrictions will be reviewed regularly and planning for the medium to long-term has begun.

Governments are working together to increase supplies of personal protective equipment such as masks, hand sanitiser and gloves. New supplies for the National Medical Stockpile are continuing to be sourced from overseas suppliers and domestic manufacturers.

The Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury also provided an overview of the economic outlook and the medium and longer term financial risks.

National Cabinet agreed to meet again on Tuesday 7 April 2020.

Religious Services

Churches and other places of worship, will be considered places of work so that services can be live streamed to the community. This will ensure that religious services, including Easter services, remain accessible to congregations. National Cabinet agreed that providing access to services is important for a sense of continuity and social connection.

Services may be conducted and live streamed providing only essential staff are present, the venue/facility remains closed to the public, and social distancing principles are adhered to.

Any church wishing to conduct religious services, including Easter services, must use the minimum number of participants required to deliver and live stream the service, which may include a priest, attendants, organist, videographer and sound recordist.

Easter Holidays

Social distancing is slowing the spread of the virus in Australia. These measures are saving lives and livelihoods. National Cabinet reminded Australians that social distancing must continue at Easter and agreed that Australians should stay at home this Easter and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.

Commercial Tenancies

National Cabinet made further progress on the issue of commercial tenancies. They have agreed that a mandatory code of conduct guided by certain principles will be developed and subsequently legislated by State and Territory Governments to apply for tenancies where the tenant is eligible for the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper assistance and is a small- or medium-sized enterprise (less than $50 million turnover).

The principles that guide the code will be:

(a) Where it can, rent should continue to be paid, and where there is financial distress as a result of COVID-19 (for example, the tenant is eligible for assistance through the JobKeeper program), tenants and landlords should negotiate a mutually agreed outcome

(b) There will be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants

(c) There will be a prohibition on termination of leases for non-payment of rent (lockouts and eviction)

(d) There will be a freeze on rent increases (except for turnover leases)

(e) There will be a prohibition on penalties for tenants who stop trading or reduce opening hours

(f) There will be a prohibition on landlords passing land tax to tenants (if not already legislated)

(g) There will be a prohibition on landlords charging interest on unpaid rent

(h) There will be a prohibition on landlords from making a claim to a bank guarantee or security deposit for non-payment of rent

(i) Ensure that any legislative barriers or administrative hurdles to lease extensions are removed (so that a tenant and landlord could agree a rent waiver in return for a lease extension)

For landlords and tenants that sign up to the code of conduct, States and Territories have agreed to look at providing the equivalent of at least a three month land tax waiver and three month land tax deferral on application for eligible landowners, with jurisdictions to continue to monitor the situation. Landlords must pass on the benefits of such moves to the tenants. In cases where parties have signed to the code of conduct, the ability for tenants to terminate leases as mentioned in the National Cabinet Statement on 29 March 2020 will not apply. Mediation will be provided as needed through existing State and Territory mechanisms.

The proposed code of conduct will be discussed at the next meeting of the National Cabinet on Tuesday 7 April.

Childcare and Education

National Cabinet welcomed the Australian Government’s Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) relief package, recognising that the sector is key to supporting essential workers and vulnerable children, while also underpinning economic recovery by allowing parents to work, study and volunteer. The relief package will provide families with free child care, while also offering certainty to ECEC services at a time where enrolments and attendance are highly unpredictable.

National Cabinet also supported the agreements made by Education Ministers on 2 April 2020 to reduce the regulatory burden on early childhood education and care. Amongst other things, it was agreed that ECEC services will remain open for all families who require care and any future decision regarding ECEC services will be consistent with advice of AHPPC (noting families who require care include all essential workers and vulnerable cohorts).

The current AHPPC advice is that ECEC centres are essential services and should continue at this time, but with risk mitigation measures in place. National Cabinet agreed with AHPPC advice that alternative care arrangements should be considered for those children who are highly vulnerable to adverse outcomes if infected with COVID-19 and that parents seek medical advice for these children.

The previous advice on schools has not changed. Education Ministers will work with medical experts to determine how the school year can be conducted.

Local Governments

National Cabinet agreed that states and territories were best placed to address issues related to the impacts of COVID19 and local governments.

Information on Coronavirus COVID-19 in Australia

To improve access to timely information on COVID19 National Cabinet agreed to the Commonwealth Department of Health releasing a national daily dashboard of data and key facts. The dashboard will shortly be available on www.health.gov.au.

National Cabinet will review up-dated health system capacity modelling on Tuesday 7 April 2020. This modelling will look at the trajectory of the outbreak in Australia, the capacity of our health care system and the measures put in place to suppress the spread of COVID19.

The Australian Business Securitisation Fund Supports SME’S

The Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) announced a round of funding from the Australian Business Securitisation Fund (ABSF) to enable smaller lenders to continue supporting Australian small and medium sized businesses (SME’s).

The AOFM will invest $250 million of ABSF funding in securities issued by a warehouse facility to support lending to SME’s.

The investment will fund a portfolio of loans for a period of up to four years and will assist with deepening the market for SME asset backed securities.

Small lenders are critical to Australia’s lending markets in creating more competition, especially for SME’s, during the current coronavirus crisis.

This funding complements other initiatives undertaken by the Government and the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to support lending to SME’s, including:

  • $15 billion to allow AOFM to invest in wholesale funding markets used by small ADIs and non-ADI lenders. The AOFM made its first investment under this program on 27 March, purchasing residential mortgage‑backed securities valued at $189 million.
  • The SME Guarantee Scheme to support up to $40 billion of lending to SMEs. Under the Scheme, the Government will guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders.
  • The RBA’s $90 billion term funding facility for ADIs with a priority for SME lending.

The Government will continue to do what it takes to ensure that Australia bounces back stronger.

Boost Covid-19 Funding For Pacific: Greens

Australian Greens Senator for NSW and International Development spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has called on the Australian Government to act immediately and increase funding to Pacific countries for COVID-19 support, in response to reports that infection figures have more than doubled since last week. Another death was reported in Guam yesterday.

Senator Faruqi said:

“Australia must not forget its Pacific neighbours in this public health crisis. Health systems in the region are already at risk of stretching to breaking point, and a full-blown outbreak could cause a serious economic disaster. A targeted increase in funding is needed right now.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our neighbours have the means to stop the spread. Australia should release new targeted funding to add capacity to their health systems and quarantine facilities, and provide much needed equipment for medical staff.

“Where is the International Development Minister on this? The last media statement from the Minister came almost a month ago when there wasn’t a single reported case in the Pacific. We’re now looking at numbers doubling since last week, only to be met with silence from this Government.

“Stopping the spread should be a key focus in Australia’s work with the Pacific nations, as the health and economic consequences of an outbreak would be disastrous for already vulnerable nations,” she said.

Pause health insurance payments & abolish PHI rebate: Greens

The Australian Greens have called for a pause on health insurance premiums during the COVID-19 crisis, and for the government to redirect the private health insurance rebate into the public system to assist in delivering critical care.

“Australians should not be paying premiums for a product that can’t be used for its primary purpose, especially when millions of households are facing challenging financial circumstances,” Dr Richard Di Natale, Greens health spokesperson said today.

“Most people cannot use their cover at this time due to restrictions on non-urgent elective surgery. Private health insurers are charging their customers for a product that in most cases, can’t be used.

“Premiums must be paused to provide people with much-needed financial respite.

“Some companies are delaying premium increases, and others have announced some measures to suspend policies or access relief on premiums, but otherwise it is business as usual: insurers collecting premiums, along with the taxpayer-funded private health insurance rebate.

“The private health insurance rebate costs Australian around $7 billion annually.

“The need for a robust and well-funded public health system has never been more apparent than it is today. At a time when our public health system needs every resource it can get, the government should not be diverting funds into the pockets of private health insurers.

“The government must stop forking out millions of dollars of public money for private health insurance and reinvest it all in saving Australian lives in the public hospital system.

“The Greens have long advocated for the abolition of the private health insurance rebate, with that money to be directed back into the public health system to benefit everyone. The case for doing so has never been clearer,” Dr Di Natale concluded.