Federal Treasurer says calls to apologise over pandemic leave payments are ‘ridiculous’

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has ridiculed calls for the government to apologise to casual workers over pandemic leave payments.

The federal government has decided to temporarily reinstate emergency payments worth up to $750 to workers required to isolate with COVID-19 but do not have access to sick leave.

Senior ministers had spent days describing the payments as unaffordable given the state of the budget, but changed position after sustained pressure from state premiers, given rising case numbers.

On Saturday, deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley accused the Prime Minister of not taking responsibility for decisions his government could overturn.

“The fact is it took universal criticism for the Prime Minister to act, days too late and he owes an apology to every single Australian who has recently tested positive for COVID-19, needed his government’s support and didn’t get it,” Ms Ley said in a statement.

Mr Chalmers rejected that statement on Sunday, telling Sky News it was a decision initially taken by the Morrison government.

“This was the former government that left us with a trillion dollars of debt.”

Cabinet minister Chris Bowen said the federal government had listened to medical advice as well feedback from premiers.

“He’s acted pretty quickly here [and] I think most Australians would agree he’s done the right thing,” Mr Bowen told Channel Nine.

“Obviously the COVID outbreak has gotten a lot worse, and the Prime Minister has listened and acted.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud said senior ministers should stop blaming the Morrison government to take responsibility for their own decisions.

“This is the right thing to do but Anthony Albanese has got to understand that he is now the Prime Minister.”

Albanese: I want to make sure ‘people aren’t left behind’

Speaking after national cabinet on Saturday, Mr Albanese said the decision was made in recognition of the risks associated with new, more infectious, COVID-19 variants.

The payment is also available for people who need to stay home and care for a person with COVID-19, including children under 16 or a person with a disability, as well as close contacts.

The scheme ended last month despite warnings that millions of people would contract COVID-19 in the weeks ahead.

In recent days, there have been mounting calls from the opposition, the Greens, unions and medical groups for the government to reinstate the payments.

The Prime Minister defended not reinstating the payment earlier, maintaining he was following the timeline laid out by his predecessors.

Mr Albanese said reinstating the payment until September would cost $780 million and would be shared 50-50 between the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

Advocates, health experts and the peak body for Australian unions all welcomed the resumption of the scheme, arguing it was the best way to protect Australian workers from COVID-19.

“This is a really essential part of our defences as a country. It’s about supporting everyone,” Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus said.

“We really welcome that the Prime Minister is backing workers to keep everyone safe at this time.”

The payments will be extended until September 30.