Jim Chalmers defends delay in reinstating Covid leave payments as cases rise

The $750 payment for those who need to isolate due to Covid has been extended through September, following pressure on the government

Reinstating Covid-19 isolation payments was a necessary move in the wake of rising cases despite criticism the government was slow in doing so, according to the treasurer, Jim Chalmers.

With infections continuing to increase, a decision was made on Saturday to restore the leave pay measure until the end of September.

The $750 payment for workers needing to isolate due to being Covid-positive ran out at the end of June but was brought back following pressure on the government.

The bill for the $780m scheme will be split between the commonwealth and states and territories.

While acting opposition leader Sussan Ley said the government had been dragged “kicking and screaming” to reinstate the payments, Chalmers described the criticism as ridiculous.

“It was her government a little over eight weeks ago that designed this program to end at the end of June,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

“We will get on with our work, working with the states and territories, led by premiers and chief ministers of both persuasions.”

The treasurer said there would be an increase in Covid cases across the country in coming weeks.

It comes as Victoria’s public hospitals get an extra 400 health workers to address rising hospitalisations and staff absences, as part of a $162m package.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese has not indicated if the payments will go beyond the 30 September cut-off.

Ley said the reaction to the fresh wave of cases was too late.

“We welcome the reinstatement of the payments but this is two weeks after they stopped,” she said.

“Anthony Albanese needs to apologise to every casual worker who suffered stress as a result of this flip-flopping.”

Nationals leader David Littleproud said restoring the leave pay was the right move but he hit out at the government for deflecting responsibility back to the Coalition.

“The prime minister didn’t act quickly enough in terms of letting this payment cease, it wasn’t the former government’s responsibility, it was theirs,” he told Nine.

“These payments are critical to those people having trouble putting bread and butter on their table.”

Australia recorded more than 78,000 new virus cases over the weekend, along with 107 deaths. There are in excess of 337,000 active cases nationwide and more than 4,700 people in hospital.