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Monday, 11 May 2020 11:30

COVID-19: Government assistance too little, too late

COVID-19: Government assistance too little, too late Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

The Coalition Government's plan to pay Australians to make up for the money they have lost due to either losing their jobs or the fact that their employers have no funds to pay them appears to be a curiously long-winded exercise, which may end up being of little use.

Few, if any, people have received any money from the government, with two bureaucracies — Centrelink and businesses — needed to first filter the payments before any is paid out. There are two schemes, JobSeeker (for the unemployed) and JobKeeper (for those who are employed). There is news this morning that the JobKeeper payments may be cut back.

Full disclosure: as a sole trader, I have applied for the JobKeeper payment.

Those who are unemployed have no choice, but to endure the painful process that Centrelink, an organisation which would win awards for incompetence, puts them through. The government could well have asked for payments to be made promptly and for the form-filling and niggling to be done later.

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Both payments are supposed to be made from 20 March, though the coronavirus pandemic started affecting wage payments much earlier. Only one reason can explain this: the government wanted to try and avoid a second quarter of negative growth and thus keep a recession at bay. When a government claims to be the "better financial manager", having a recession on one's watch does not exactly bolster its reputation.

Most of the money that the government is offering is through the JobKeeper scheme - $130 billion. Businesses are first supposed to pay their employees at the rate of $1500 per fortnight while they (the businesses) apply to the Australian Taxation Office to gauge their eligibility to receive the JobKeeper payment.

The ATO knows the business status of every worker and business in the country and is the most efficient entity in the public sector when it comes to either taking money from citizens or paying them. Yet, the government chose to add additional bureaucratic requirements which will leave businesses wondering about their fate.

Some enterprises have taken to telling their employees that they will apply for the scheme if the employees are willing to pay them a percentage - something that is illegal. But then a crisis like the pandemic is a good time to make some money and who is willing to let the opportunity go to waste?

And though Australia has come to the stage when it has drafted a three-stage plan to reopen the country, JobKeeper claimants are still waiting with their hands out. When will the money be paid - after people have starved to death? after they have become bankrupt? after they have been evicted from their rental properties?

The ATO could have been asked to make the payments to those who are eligible immediately, instead of sitting on things. But when you have a neoliberal government in power, one that is ideologically opposed to what it would no doubt class as socialism, this is what you get.

A six-month term has been set for these payments and the government is already making noises that the flow of money may be stopped before that time is up. No economist of any repute is willing to bet that things will be back to normal in September – yet the government is quite insistent that the payments will end by that time.

What use is government assistance when it comes in the form of a drip-bucket like this? The government has earned misplaced praise for its JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes. It should now be roundly hammered for letting ideology get in the way of helping its own subjects.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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