Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says he will listen to Victoria’s renewed request to activate JobKeeper-style support as Melbourne’s lockdown drags into another week.
The Victorian government has thrown an extra $209 million into the kitty to help businesses doing it tough through the latest shutdown.
But thousands of laid-off Melbourne workers, particularly those among the casual workforce, are now facing at least a further seven days without their regular pay cheque.
When announcing the initial $250 million package on Sunday, Victoria’s Treasurer Tim Pallas unleashed on Mr Frydenberg for declining to chip in with financial support for workers.
Mr Pallas attempted to make contact with Mr Frydenberg on Wednesday morning to formally request the federal government reconsider its stance, and Acting Premier James Merlino will also lobby the prime minister.
“I do hope that the Commonwealth will swiftly confirm that they will step up and provide that support,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“If they do not, I will be raising this directly at national cabinet on Friday.”
Speaking in Canberra, Mr Frydenberg confirmed he was yet to speak with Mr Pallas but would give the state’s request a fair hearing.
“I have a constructive relationship with him despite his comments in recent days. We all have a sense of humour about that,” he said.
“But I will speak to him. The prime minister will speak to James Merlino. Our health officials will talk, and we’ll consider that in due course.”
He hinted any decision to extend lockdown support would not be localised and instead involve a broader policy shift.
“What we need to think about, obviously, given the pandemic is still with us is how we approach this on a national basis,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“It’s not about Victoria, Western Australia or individual cases. We will stick to our principals.”
The Kooyong MP noted lockdown-hit Victorian workers could apply for JobSeeker payments, with the removal of the regular waiting period and mutual obligation requirements.
But Mr Merlino said Victorian businesses and workers were crying out for more targeted support from the federal government, and hopes a positive outcome can be brokered.
“The ball is in the federal government’s court,” he said.
Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said the time for delay and debate was over.
“People are again missing shifts, losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills,” she said.
“The federal government must step up and provide emergency support to Victoria.”
Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra echoed that call, saying the reintroduction of a JobKeeper-like scheme would be the simplest and easiest fix.
“Victoria can’t do this alone. The federal government has done a great job to keep businesses afloat through JobKeeper and we need them to step up to the plate again,” Mr Zahra said.
Victoria’s Treasury estimated the seven-day statewide lockdown would cost the economy $700 million, a figure set to blow out well beyond $1 billion.
Melbourne’s Chapel Street Precinct general manager Chrissie Maus said no government grant will come close to covering the true losses felt by traders.
“The social impact is even worse and one that keeps me awake at night,” she said.
“Small businesses are again making heartbreaking decisions about whether to lay off staff or destroy inventory.”