COVID-19 pandemic leave payments must be reinstated, NSW Labor leader tells Anthony Albanese

Pressure is mounting on the federal government to reinstate the pandemic leave disaster payment, amid warnings that millions of Australians will contract COVID-19 in the weeks ahead. 

Australians who test positive but do not have access to sick leave were offered up to $750 in support, but that ended last month.

The payment was also made available for people who had to stay home and care for a person with COVID, including children under 16 or a person with a disability, as well as close contacts.

The decision to scrap the payment was made even though it remained a public health requirement for people to isolate if they contracted COVID-19. 

New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns has called on the federal government to reconsider its decision. 

“There needs to be an urgent rethink of the $750 for those who have been stuck at home with the COVID-19 illness,” he said. 

Mr Minns warned that without the payment, some people might still work because they needed the money to get by. 

“I don’t want people having to choose between declaring whether they have COVID-19, [and] testing whether they have COVID-19 and returning to work, putting coworkers, the community and family at risk.”

Tasmania’s Premier Jeremy Rockliff has also raised concerns, and has written to the Prime Minister about the payment and the end date on free rapid antigen tests.

“It’s not the right time,” he said.

“We are all in this together.

His calls to reinstate the payment follow similar messages from both unions and the Australian Medical Association. 

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus warned that ending the support could have health consequences. 

“Without paid pandemic leave, hundreds of thousands of working Australians will face an impossible choice — to do the right thing for the community and stay at home, or to keep food on the table and pay their rent,” she said.

“No worker should have to go to work while sick just to pay the bills. 

A woman in a dark suit and glasses with a short haircut.
Sally McManus says ending COVID-19 leave payments will ultimately cost the economy.(ABC News)

Health Minister ‘regrets’ end to leave payments, but pushing on anyway

The payment was established under the Morrison government in an attempt to provide financial support for casuals who did not have access to sick leave entitlements. 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has so far resisted calls to reinstate the payment and has blamed the former government. 

“It’s just a fact that we’ve made no decision to cut payments,” he told Channel Nine. 

“There were measures that were in place that have been by the former government with end dates to them.”

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However, the Albanese government can change the decision if it wants to — and the NSW Labor leader has urged his federal colleagues to do so. 

“This payment is probably the price that we need to pay in order to deal with living with COVID over the next 12 months,” Mr Minns said.

“We have to make sure we make common sense decisions to help people make the right personal care decisions so we can keep the community safe and protect our emergency departments over what will undoubtedly be a difficult winter period.”

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Chris Minns has urged the federal government to reconsider ending pandemic leave payments.(ABC News)

Health Minister Mark Butler has warned that millions of Australians will contract COVID-19 in coming weeks and hospitalisations could soon reach 5,500. 

Despite the expected increases, he said the government had introduced and backed other measures to try to keep the figures at bay, such as expanding the vaccine booster program and access to antiviral medicines, as well as additional funding for hospitals.

He confirmed the Chief Medical Officer had not provided advice on the leave payments but he said he “regretted” the decision.

“This is going to have an impact on people in the community, I’ve made no bones about that and I deeply regret it,” he said.

“We do regret that, but we also make the point we have inherited a budget that is a trillion dollars in debt.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has also repeatedly defended the decision to end the payment and has suggested the ongoing cost is too much. 

“Unfortunately, there is not room in the budget for every good idea or to extend every program, even good ones, indefinitely,” he said on Wednesday. 

“We will continue to take the advice obviously of the medical profession and others to make sure that we are providing support where we affordably can. 

“There is not the financial capacity to continue emergency payments forever.”

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