The Federal Government is postponing its May budget and introducing measures to thin crowds in Australia’s bars, restaurants and other indoor venues because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the budget was being pushed back to October 6, five months later than usual.
State and territory leaders have also agreed to delay their budgets until later this year.
“The idea that you can actually put together any sort of forecast around the economy at this time is simply not sensible,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison said National Cabinet, which includes the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers, would also force indoor venues to limit crowds to one person per 4 square metres to reduce the spread of the virus.
In a wide-ranging press conference, he announced:
- Schools will remain open, following health officials’ advice
- A second stimulus package will be directed towards small and medium-sized business
- Australians should reconsider the need for unnecessary travel
- Travel to Indigenous communities will be restricted
- Aged-care facilities will receive an extra $444 million
- Commercial and residential tenants will receive financial relief
- All aged-care workers to undergo testing for coronavirus
Second stimulus package looms
The Prime Minister and Treasurer last week announced a $17.6 billion stimulus package, described at the time as a bid to keep Australia out of a recession.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has since said a recession will be hard to avoid.
Today Mr Morrison said the Government was in the final stages of finalising a second stimulus package.
The details of the package are expected to be announced before the Parliament returns on Monday to pass the legislation needed to enact the stimulus measures.
“We are working on a package that will cushion the blow over the next six months, and will provide the necessary support so people can get on that bridge, to get them to the other side,” Mr Morrison said.
“That is focusing heavily on small, medium-size businesses, sole traders, and it is also providing for the income support that will be necessary for those most directly impacted by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus.”
Aged-care workers to be tested for COVID-19
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the Government would relax the criteria to undergo COVID-19 testing.
“We are now testing all aged care workers because aged care is such a crucial area,” Dr Murphy said.
“We will be testing healthcare workers with influenza-like illnesses, all people presenting to hospital with pneumonia.”
Passengers who have returned from overseas, or been in contact with a confirmed case, could already access a test.
New indoor gathering restrictions
Indoor venues like bars and restaurants will have to limit crowds to one person per 4 square metres, as well as keeping them to fewer than 100 people.
“That’s two metres by two metres,” Mr Morrison said.
“So for example, if you’ve got a room … that’s 100 square metres, then you can have 25 people in that room.”
Schools, universities, airports, public transport, medical and emergency services facilities, aged care homes, jails, courts, parliaments, supermarkets and many workplaces are exempt from the indoor gathering restrictions.
The Government’s pre-existing ban on more than 500 people at outdoor events remains.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
Governments considering further travel restrictions
National Cabinet will now meet twice a week, on Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings.
Mr Morrison said the leaders would have further discussions about travel before the Easter school holiday period.
“The advice is to reconsider the need for unnecessary travel,” he said.
“And if you are unwell, stay at home unless seeking medical advice.
“Further advice is being taken to the National Cabinet next Tuesday night, and that will be available before people go on school holidays.”
But Mr Morrison said schools would remain open for the foreseeable future, based on the advice of the nation’s health officials.
Assistance for tenants struggling to pay rent
Mr Morrison said the states would identify how they could help people struggling to pay rent, both commercial and residential.
He said the aim was to keep people in their houses for as long as possible.
“I know that will mean something for landlords, just as the decision taken today means something for banks, just like the decisions we have already taken as a Commonwealth Government means things for our balance sheets,” Mr Morrison said.
“It will also mean something for those who sadly might be stood down from their employment and have to look at their annual leave arrangements and sick leave arrangements.
“All Australians are going to be making sacrifices, obviously, in the months ahead. And everyone does have that role to play and that will include landlords, at the end of the day, for people who are enduring real hardship.”
Indigenous communities into lockdown
The Prime Minister announced the Government would ban travel into some remote Indigenous communities to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The ban will be enforced using the Health Minister’s powers under the Biosecurity Act.
Mr Morrison said the Government would work with Indigenous communities to stop people entering or leaving those areas.
There will be exemptions for people providing medical care, police and emergency services, food and medical supplies, education and maintenance of essential services.