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Scott Morrison has warned that the national economy will take another hit from the extended Victorian lockdown as he took aim at the state’s roadmap for easing restrictions, saying leaders “cannot create a burden that is too great to bear”.
The prime minister refused to specify on Monday whether the federal government would rethink its plan to reduce the rate of the jobkeeper and jobseeker programs this month, calling on the Victorian government to spell out its own economic support package before Canberra considered taking action.
But Morrison raised questions about Victoria’s contact-tracing capabilities and said he hoped the plan unveiled by the premier, Daniel Andrews, was the “worst-case scenario” and only a “starting point” for managing the virus in the weeks ahead.
Facing reporters in Canberra on Monday, Morrison said the assumptions needed to be “interrogated” by the federal government and health experts because the plan would have “very severe impacts”.
The prime minister said he could not help but be struck by the fact that Sydney would be under curfew right now if the thresholds set in the Victorian plan were extended to New South Wales.
“Sydney doesn’t need to be under curfew now [because] they have a tracing capability that can deal with outbreaks,” Morrison said.
“That’s why I say it’s important that we work on building that tracing capability in Victoria, to get it at a level that enables it to move in a more confident way than I think the plan that was announced yesterday set out.”
In a clear effort to distance the federal Coalition government from the strategy, Morrison said the commonwealth did not have the authority “to step in and tell the Victorian government they have to follow another plan”.
But he said the federal government would provide “constructive feedback” on the Victorian plan after sitting down with business and industry groups. Canberra would “raise these issues” in the days and weeks ahead and would urge Victoria to be “always responsive to the most recent information”.
Morrison’s comments come as key figures in the federal Coalition government have been sharpening their attacks on the Victorian government’s handling of the second wave of infections.
Sentiment has been building within Coalition ranks more broadly that state governments have felt free to impose tough border restrictions and other strict health measures because of the backup provided by the federal government’s flagship economic support programs.
About a month ago, federal Treasury forecasts indicated that the lockdown in Victoria would be likely to push unemployment in Australia to 10% by the end of the year, and would cost the national economy between $10bn and $12bn.
Morrison said Treasury would update its forecasts about the economic impact as part of the process of preparing the budget, which is due for release next month, but there was no doubt that it would have a negative impact on joblessness, incomes and revenue.
He said while the biggest impacts would be in Victoria, there would be “domino impacts” elsewhere because of the role that the state played in the national economy through supply chains.
Asked how he could justify slashing the jobkeeper and jobseeker payment rates at the end of this month, given the ongoing restrictions on work and life in Victoria, Morrison emphasised that the programs were being extended beyond the initial September deadline.
Labor has signalled it will continue to argue against the tapering of jobkeeper down from $1,500 a fortnight to $1,200 in September, then $1,000 in January, but the rate is not dealt with in legislation that passed last week.
The prime minister called on the Victorian government to outline what programs it would roll out at a state level to “mitigate the economic impact of the decisions the Victorian government has made regarding the restrictions and the plan that they have set out”.
“I’ll be looking to see what they’ll be doing first before the commonwealth considers any responses that we’ll be making,” he said.
Prof Brendan Murphy, the secretary of the federal health department, said some of the assumptions in the Victorian roadmap appeared to be based on “a very conservative approach”.
“There’s no rulebook for this virus but I think some of us feel that, if there were more confidence in the public health response capability, you could take some slightly more generous triggers,” Murphy said.
But Murphy said he had no reason to believe Victoria was now pursuing an elimination strategy. The strategy remained “aggressive suppression”.
Morrison insisted that he understood the need to avoid a relapse in infection numbers in Victoria but said governments managing the pandemic needed to take care to generate and maintain community support for the plans. He also called for greater acknowledgement of the differences in parts of regional Victoria.
“We cannot create a burden that is too great to bear, because that would see all the plans fail if that were the case,” he said.
“This is calling on the Victorian public, in a way that has never, I think, been done before – certainly for something like this.”
Morrison was joined by Murphy and the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, to announce vaccine manufacturing deals that were foreshadowed overnight.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Morrison takes aim at Victoria’s lockdown, warning of ‘very severe’ impact on national economy | Australian economy