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Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything we take for granted into disarray and made planning any distance into the future nigh on impossible.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison recognised this when he handed businesses a parachute on Tuesday in the form of a six-month extension to the JobKeeper wage subsidies, to March 2021.
A supplement that boosts the paltry dole payment will be extended three months to the end of the year.
But he made it very clear the government is anticipating a long, slow taper to both payments with regular temperature checks of the economy and further extensions.
Scaremongering about the cliff people would fall off when the payments came to their initial legislated end in September began almost as soon as they were announced.
Morrison said on Tuesday it would be premature to talk now about what might happen during the extension period.
“Where the world will be at the end of March is not something that we can speculate on at this time,” he said.
The economic circumstances were still “very open to change”.
JobKeeper is now supporting 3.5 million workers in more than 960,000 businesses with a flat payment of $1500 a fortnight.
That payment will be split into two tiers, to better account for part-time workers and drop to $1200 for full-time staff from the end of September and further to $1000 from January.
Treasury forecasts it will cover 1.4 million workers between October and December, and a million in the following quarter.
That could mean they anticipate the reopening economy will return life to something like normal for three in five people now getting the subsidy.
But the prime minister conceded a portion of those 2.1 million people whose jobs have been kept during the depths of the crisis will join the ranks of job seekers – particularly people working part-time.
The effective unemployment rate is already at 11.3 per cent.
The government is keeping mum for now on its plans for the JobSeeker unemployment payment and coronavirus supplement beyond the end of the year.
But after years of resisting calls to raise the rate – as social services minister and treasurer before becoming leader – Morrison said on Tuesday his government now has “no real intention” of going back to the original dole level.
Times may continue to be uncertain but it does appear one lasting legacy of the pandemic will be to lift some of Australia’s poorest up a bit higher.