The Federal Parliament has rushed through $84 billion in financial support for workers, students and businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, before wrapping up for a five-month-long break.
- The bills were passed late on Monday night without objection in the House
- The first direct payments won’t be made until April 27
- Parliament won’t resume until August, while the Finance Minister has been given extra powers
A bare minimum of MPs and Senators came to Canberra for a single day to vote on legislation for the Government’s two rounds of stimulus measures.
The bills were passed late Monday night without objection in both the House of Representatives and the Senate after some amendments were made.
“The measures that have been passed by the Parliament today represent the most significant support for the Australian economy and community since the war,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
“There is much to do for this country in the weeks and months ahead, but working together, we can support the Australian community at their moment of need.”
Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said the Parliament’s co-operation “has been a good example today of the Parliament at its best, working at a time when the nation is facing some of its worst”.
Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap
236,000 students to benefit, Government says
The coronavirus economic downturn has fuelled more Centrelink claims. (ABC News: Chris Taylor)
The legislation supports both the first coronavirus economic stimulus package, worth $17.6 billion, and the $66 billion in direct financial support announced in the second package on the weekend.
It also includes a raft of other measures to support the economy more broadly, as well as giving the Government flexibility to respond to changing circumstances without needing further legislation.
@JoshFrydenberg tweet: Tonight the Govt’s Coronavirus support package passed the Parliament. This is the most significant set of measures to support the Aust economy since wartime. This is a Team Aust moment
Coronavirus questions answered
Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.
Under pressure from Labor and the Greens, the Coalition amended its own legislation to give the social services minister the power to make changes to the stimulus payments, including rates, means testing, eligibility and residency requirements.
The Government will immediately use those powers to extend the $550 coronavirus supplement to students receiving Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy payments.
Other than the income test, “there are really very few other requirements” students will have to meet to get support, said Social Services Minister Anne Ruston.
The Government estimates up to 236,000 students could benefit from the change.
Labor demanded an end date to the extra powers for the social services minister be included in the legislation.
“I think giving broad powers like this would, in any normal situation, never be provided to the executive,” said Labor’s finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher.
“But this is a very unusual world that we are living in now and we acknowledge that the Government will have to respond, and will have to respond at different times and in different ways, over the next few months.”
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
First direct payments won’t happen until April 27
Coronavirus prevention measures has sent many small businesses into economic freefall. (ABC News: Nicole Asher)
Labor had wanted stimulus payments to reach workers earlier, given the first direct payments won’t reach wallets until April 27.
“There is a lack of urgency in this support,” Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said.
“We are concerned that payments to households, including pensioners, will arrive too late. And we are deeply concerned that cashflow assistance to businesses will arrive too late.”
“For sole traders and the self-employed, this support is just not enough.”
@KKeneally tweet: Tonight the @AuSenate debates, and passes, vital stimulus measures. It’s called a stimulus package but it’s for the survival of Australia
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
Labor also raised concerns about letting people access their superannuation early, but passed the bills nonetheless.
“Now is not the time to stand in the way of this package of measures because Australians need support now,” said Senator Keneally.
The Greens failed to win support for a series of amendments, but ultimately backed the bills, too.
They wanted financial support to be extended to people on temporary visas and those receiving disability support and carers’ payments.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Parliament won’t resume until August 11
The Finance Minster has been given unprecedented powers to spend without parliamentary approval. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
Parliament is now not due to sit again until August 11, with the May budget postponed and other parliamentary sitting days cancelled.
Parliament has approved an ‘advance’ of $40 billion for the finance minister to spend on unforeseen events from July 1 without needing parliamentary approval.
By comparison, the ‘advance’ for the current financial year was $1.2 billion.
The Government will have to publicly announce every use of the funds and consult the Opposition when spending more than $1 billion.
Labor’s Senator Gallagher said the extraordinary increase in the ‘advance’ represented the “unprecedented times” the nation was facing.
This story is no longer being updated. For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow this story.
Video: Q+A: Coronavirus testing criteria slammed
Ask us your coronavirus questions