The Australian parliament has passed the government’s wage subsidy scheme in a late night sitting.
Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators re-convened in Canberra for a single day on Wednesday to legislate the 130-billion-Australian dollar (81.1-billion-U.S. dollar) JobKeeper package.
Under the scheme, an estimated six million eligible workers who have had their work status affected by the COVID-19 pandemic will receive fortnightly payments of 1,500 AUD (935.7 USD) for about six months.
Before the bill was passed by parliament late on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that “our nation’s sovereignty is put at risk and we must respond” when addressing parliament.
“Today we act to protect our nation’s sovereignty. When Australian lives and livelihoods are threatened, when they are under attack, our nation’s sovereignty is put at risk and we must respond. As a Government, as a Parliament, as a nation, together,” Morrison said.
“It will be a fight. It will be a fight we will win. But it won’t be a fight without costs, or without loss. Protecting our sovereignty has always come at a great cost, regardless of what form that threat takes. And today will be no different.”
Morrison also described the package as “the biggest economic lifeline in Australia’s history.”
The JobKeeper package was unveiled by Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on March 30 as the centerpiece of their economic response to COVID-19, when they said the payment would bring the government’s total economic support for the economy to 320 billion Australian dollars (about 199 billion U.S. dollars), or 16.4 percent of the country’s GDP.
It was designed to prevent mass job losses and economic devastation amid widespread forced closures of non-essential businesses.
The scheme will be administered by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), with payments to be funnelled to employers who will then be obliged to pass them on to employees.
As of Wednesday more than 700,000 businesses had registered for the scheme through the ATO.
Frydenberg said on Wednesday that the passage of the legislation was “one of the most important days in this history of the Australian parliament.”
“Our actions today will keep families together, businesses in business and preserve the productive capacity of the economy. This is vital as we prepare to meet the challenges of today and position ourselves for the recovery tomorrow,” he said.
“This is the single biggest rescue package that our nation has ever seen.
“This new 1,500 AUD a fortnight payment will provide job security at a time when it is needed most. This is a level of support like this country has never, ever seen before.”
In order to deliver the economic stimulus measures Morrison and Frydenberg may have to abandon their promise to deliver a budget surplus – the first in over a decade – in the financial year 2019/20, according to local media reports. Enditem