Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 20 July 2021
Simon Birmingham: This is obviously challenging times ahead over the next week for South Australians. But, it’s important to know that we will all stand united in this time to help South Australians, South Australian businesses, South Australian households get through the trying days ahead and once again get on top of COVID-19 and demonstrate our capacity as a State to be nation leading and world in terms of suppressing the virus and stimulating our economy. Throughout the course of recent times, and particularly today, the Prime Minister and the Premier have spoken on multiple occasions along with relevant ministers to ensure that we understand the situation that's occurring in South Australia and to discuss relevant support, particularly in South Australian households through this time.
We're particularly conscious of the number of cases, but more so the number of exposure sites, the geographical spread of those exposure sites and the particular threat posed by the Delta variant. I could advise the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, will issue a declaration declaring all of metropolitan Adelaide to be a Commonwealth hotspot. In doing so, that will include the local government areas across the metropolitan area, including those [indistinct] Adelaide Hills.
The declaration by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer can trigger a number of things in terms of assistance to South Australia. There are areas of systems that relate importantly to suppressing the virus and assisting in the suppression of the virus, such as the provision of any additional protective equipment that is required, as well as with contact tracing where necessary.
It also triggers important income support for South Australians. The income support will be in the form of COVID-19 disaster payments, those payments will ensure individuals who lose between eight hours and 20 hours of work over the course of the next week are eligible for a payment of $375. Those who lose more than 20 hours of work over the next week will be eligible for a payment of $600. This is important financial assistance to individual households across this designated hotspot area. Ensuring that people who are losing work and losing wages get financial assistance and get it quickly and effectively. These payments are made in a arrears on an ongoing weekly basis so long as the hotspot definition and the lockdown requirements remain in place.
What we've seen interstate is that the payments are proving to be very effective. And in New South Wales, some three hundred and 388,0000 payments have already been made, totalling some $187 million in support to New South Wales households and of course, in South Australia, depending on the length of lockdown, depending on the numbers of people losing work. These payments will flow automatically to those in the hotspot areas. Payments are processed quickly. Indeed, in some instances individuals have reported seeing money hit their bank account within 40 minutes of their application successfully being completed. But these are payments that will be processed in arrears which means that application details will be released over the coming days and information provided on the Services Australia website that South Australians who might miss out on work during the course of this week can be confident they will be eligible for financial assistance to make up for some of that work that they've lost and get them through these tough times.
Journalist: So correct me if I'm wrong. But that COVID-19 disaster payment, how it's working for Victoria and New South Wales is that it’s for when restrictions are longer than seven days, obviously, SA has a seven day lockdown, but ends after seven days can people still access that even though it hasn't gone longer?
Simon Birmingham: If the lockdown runs for the seven days, the support and assistance will be there.
Journalist: So people can access that from the next day, that lockdown ends?
Simon Birmingham: They'll be able to make applications from then.
Journalist: Go it and just explain exactly how tough this will be for workers who are losing hours this week and how important this payment will be for them?
Simon Birmingham: This is a really tough time for so many South Australians, but probably not more so than those who are losing casual shoes, losing part time jobs during the course of this lockdown. And know, they're going to feel some financial stress as a result of doing so. This payment is about filling hat void for South Australian households who really need it, making sure that the most vulnerable, who are losing a few hours of casual work, a couple of shifts of part-time work are going to get payments to help them get by this way or longer if need be.
Journalist: What were some of the processes that happened today in the federal chief medical officer deciding that Adelaide would be a hotspot why wasn't the announcement made a bit earlier?
Simon Birmingham: The chief medical officer has his own processes in terms of discussions with Professor Spurrier in South Australia, information shared between their teams and importantly, looking at where the cases are, where the exposure sites are and, of course, the risk of transmission, particularly following the confirmation this is the Delta variant. The chief medical officers had discussions in the National Security Committee today with the Prime Minister, myself, the Health Minister, Treasurer and other relevant ministers. As well as, of course, the Prime Minister and Premier, having direct discussions as the rest have at ministerial and other levels with the SA government.
Journalist: Will businesses be able to access any kind of federal support?
Simon Birmingham: So as with other states in current circumstances, different states have been tailoring business support arrangements. My understanding is that SA has been working on that during the day. If they need assistance in terms of the distribution of those, they're discussions that we'll, as we've had with other states, in terms of the exact ideal distribution mechanisms.
Journalist: Have you had any discussions with Premier Steven Marshall, or Treasurer Rob Lucas, about exactly what those plans would like at the state level for businesses?
Simon Birmingham: I don't want to pre-empt what the state's decisions in terms of their business support will be. We are making sure that South Australia gets the type of support provided to Victoria and New South Wales during their current and recent lockdowns. And we want to make sure that support for those South Australian households and individuals flows quickly. In doing so that does provide some relief for certain businesses as well. Many business owners will rightly struggle with the decision to stand down an employee from a shift or a few hours before the week because they know what the consequences of that on their employee. Knowing these payments are available for those employees does provide some benefit to businesses in the decision they're able to make in managing their own cash flow situations.
Journalist: What kind of economic impact do you expect, a seven-day lockdown to have on the economy?
Simon Birmingham: Clearly, lockdowns are not good for the economy and that will have some impact. Now, quantifying that is challenging. What we've seen over the course of 18 months of dealing with the pandemic is that businesses have enormous capability and capacity to adapt to support staff where they can work from home arrangements to maintain certain levels of production and activity. And our economy has shown enormous resilience in terms of rebounding very quickly from previous lockdowns and shutdowns. And indeed, even if we look to the very long lockdown that Victoria had last year, we've seen the Victorian economy, Victorian employment levels recover very quickly in response to that.
So South Australians, I think, should go into this week with confidence that the state is acting early, decisively and in a manner that will get on top of this outbreak and give us the maximum chance of ensuring that the lockdown is short lived. But the lockdown will be complimented with the financial assistance to help make sure the state not only gets through it, but bounces back quickly.
Journalist: And just finally, we've seen obviously there's a statewide lockdown, so plenty of regional businesses are being hurt as well. I'm not sure if those hotspots cover all regional areas. I'm assuming that don't, do you expect them to receive any kind of financial support, whether that's through a federal programme or at a state level?
Simon Birmingham: The agreement that we've reached with other states has been that where the commonwealth hotspot applies to greater Sydney, other more urbanised areas of Sydney. But restrictions apply more broadly across New South Wales that individuals who are impacted by restrictions can apply. And the New South Wales government, for example, or similarly in relation to Victoria, is picking up the tab for those outside of the commonwealth hotspot zone. Obviously, those same offers of arrangements will exist in relation to SA this declaration and determination by the Commonwealth chief medical officer is only being issued tonight. So I imagine those discussions will continue with the SA government in the days to come.