Politics

Health Minister Mark Butler: Budget to blame for scrapped paid pandemic leave


Australia is bracing for another peak of Covid-19 cases, but some workers will be left without income. Here’s why.

Covid-19 case numbers are peaking across the country but the government is insistent it will not reintroduce paid pandemic leave.

The Albanese government this week pushed ahead with plans introduced by Scott Morrison to scrap the $750 payments made available for people who either tested positive or needed to isolate as a close contact or carer.

Health Minister Mark Butler said given the budget had about a trillion dollars of debt, the government could not afford to continue to pay Australians to stay home when they contract Covid-19.

That’s despite it being illegal to not isolate if a person has tested positive to Covid-19, and leaves casual workers with no income while they are sick.

It’s estimated that since the scheme was introduced in August 2020, more than $1.89bn has been paid out to people across the country.

Mr Butler said the pandemic leave could not continue forever.

“We are one trillion (dollars) in debt and at some point emergency payments of this type have to be wound up as we move to a new phase,” Mr Butler told ABC.

“That’s the decision that former governments took and it’s a decision we have decided to follow as well.”

When pressed about the implications for particularly casual workers, Mr Butler remained adamant the emergency measures had to be wound up “at some point”.

“I accept whenever you end an emergency payment of this type it’s going to impact people — I deeply regret that,” Mr Butler said.

“We don’t have the financial capacity to keep making them forever.”

Last week, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said scrapping the payments – as Covid-19 cases spike across the country amid the country’s third Omicron wave this year – was shortsighted.

“The Albanese government is warning Australians that the virus is still a serious threat, and that we can expect more cases as we encounter new variants, but at the same time they are scrapping one of our best defences against new waves of infection,” Ms O’Neil said.

“This decision will result in workers working while they are sick, which we have known since the first days of the pandemic is a certain way to more rapidly spread the virus and put more people at risk.

“If we are asking people to isolate to keep the community safe, then we need to ensure that they are supported to do that. No one should suffer such a big financial penalty for doing the right thing.

“The Albanese government should not ignore the lessons that we have learnt (throughout this) pandemic.”

Originally published as Health Minister Mark Butler insists paid pandemic leave is gone for good



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