Firstly, I want to thank everyone who is contributing to the effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19. While it is early days the new infections across Australia have fallen in the last few days and it is indicating we are making progress. If we continue to live by the rules we will succeed.
I would also like to thank everyone who has been in touch with my office over the past couple of weeks. My offices have been inundated with enquires and calls for assistance. Due to the volume of correspondence we have been addressing the most urgent requests and enquiries as a matter of priority, so thank you to all who have shown patience and used their common sense in this difficult period we are all facing.
As I have mentioned previously, I appreciate all feedback and take it on board and where appropriate pass that advice along to the relevant ministers.
This update will cover:
- New key resource – Coronavirus Australia app.
- Further restrictions and advice on social distancing
- Updated travel information for Australians returning home
- $1.1 billion to boost mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.
- Third stimulus details – $130 billion including Job Keeper payments
- Centrelink Assistance including Job Seeker payments
- New Foreign Investment rules
- Indigenous areas within South Australia that 14 days quarantining is mandatory before visiting or returning to community.
- A new Coronavirus Australia App has been released which I have had a look at and it is a good source of information for all Australians – visit the App store to download it for free.
- On Sunday the Prime Minister announced further restrictions on gatherings.
National Cabinet agreed to limit both indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only.
Exceptions to this limit include:
- People of the same household going out together;
- Funerals – a maximum of 10 people;
- Wedding – a maximum of 5 people;
- Family units.
Bootcamps will now be reduced to two persons, including the trainer.
- Returning travellers
Substantial numbers of returned travellers and small community outbreaks associated with travellers continue to contribute most of the significant further growth in COVID-19 cases in Australia.
In order to help drive down this concerning number of imported cases, late last week the National Cabinet agreed to take action to further restrict the movement of incoming travellers and to increase compliance checks on travellers who are already undertaking their mandatory self-isolation period at home. This is about reducing the spread of the virus in Australia and saving lives
National Cabinet agreed that:
- All travellers arriving in Australia will be required to undertake their mandatory 14 day self-isolation at designated facilities (for example, a hotel).
- Travellers will be transported directly to designated facilities after appropriate immigration, customs and enhanced health checks.
- Designated facilities will be determined by the relevant state or territory government and will ordinarily be in the city of entry where the traveller has cleared immigration, but facilities in other areas may be used if required.
- These requirements will be implemented under state and territory legislation and will be enforced by state and territory governments, with the support of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Australian Border Force (ABF) where necessary.
- The Commonwealth will provide support through the ABF and ADF for these arrangements across Australia, and that states and territories would meet the costs and determine any contributions required for travellers arriving within their jurisdictions.
- Air and maritime crews will be required to continue to undertake the existing precautions they are following where they self-isolate in their accommodation if they enter Australia until their next work voyage.
- $1.1 billion – for mental health, domestic violence services, Medicare assistance & emergency food relief. For full details visit this link – https://www.pm.gov.au/media/11-billion-support-more-mental-health-medicare-and-domestic-violence-services-0
Mental health support
An initial $74 million will be provided to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians.
The Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au), will be a single source of authoritative information and guidance on how to maintain good mental health during the coronavirus pandemic and in self-isolation, how to support children and loved ones, and how to access further mental health services and care.
- $10 million will be provided to create a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line, delivered by Beyond Blue. The Government welcomes an additional $5 million contribution from Medibank to Beyond Blue to support this vital initiative.
- $14 million will bolster the capacity of mental health support providers who have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes with funding increasing their capacity, including $5 million for Lifeline and $2 million for Kids Helpline.
- Health workers, who will be at the frontline of the pandemic, will get dedicated mental health support through digital platforms developed to provide advice, social support, assistance in managing stress and anxiety, and more in-depth treatment without having to attend in-person sessions.
- To ensure that older Australians in aged care are not socially isolated despite visiting restrictions, $10 million will be provided to the Community Visitors Scheme.
- To help younger Australians stay on track in their education and training and prepare them for the workforce, $6.75 million will be provided to deliver the headspace digital work and study service and eheadspace.
- For Indigenous Australians, whose elders and communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts coronavirus, Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia will develop culturally appropriate mental health and wellbeing resources.
- $28.3 million will be utilised to continue to deliver psychosocial support to Commonwealth community mental health clients for a further 12 months. This will allow additional time for people with severe and complex mental illness to complete their applications and testing for support under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Domestic violence support
An initial $150 million will be provided to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from coronavirus.
The funding will boost programs under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children including:
- Counselling support for families affected by, or at risk of experiencing, domestic and family violence including men’s behaviour change programs which will provide a short, medium and longer term response to support men.
- 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, which already answers around 160,000 calls a year.
- Mensline Australia, the national counselling service for men that provides support for emotional health and relationship concerns for men affected by or considering using violence.
- Trafficked People Program to support particularly vulnerable cohorts such as victims of human trafficking, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices.
- Support programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice, when it is safe to do so.
Medicare support at home – whole of population telehealth
To provide continued access to essential primary health services during the coronavirus pandemic, $669 million will be provided to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians, with extra incentives to GPs and other health practitioners also delivered.
Australians will be able to access support in their own home using their telephone, or video conferencing features like FaceTime to connect with GP services, mental health treatment, chronic disease management, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments, services to people with eating disorders, pregnancy support counselling, services to patients in aged care facilities, children with autism, after-hours consultations and nurse practitioners.
Providing the opportunity to get health services at home is a key weapon in the fight against coronavirus while limiting unnecessary exposure of patients and health professionals to the virus, wherever treatment can be safely delivered by phone or videoconferencing. This will take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments and allow people to access essential health services in their home, while supporting self-isolation and quarantine policies.
The GP bulk billing incentive will be doubled for GPs and an incentive payment will be established to ensure practices stay open to provide face to face services where they are essential for patients with conditions that can’t be treated through telehealth. The new arrangements will be in place until 30 September 2020, when they will be reviewed in light of the need to continue the fight against coronavirus.
Relief services for vulnerable Australians
An additional $200 million will be provided to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief as demand surges as a result of coronavirus.
Given the unprecedented nature of the situation, emergency relief services are being heavily relied upon and this demand will increase.
The Community Support Package will provide flexible funding to boost support to services where demand is quickly increasing, including:
- Emergency Relief which will help vulnerable Australians who need assistance with bills, food, clothing or petrol and increase and retain workforce capacity including volunteers.
- Assistance for food relief organisations to source additional food and transport for emergency relief service providers, and rebuild workforce capacity.
- Immediately scale-up services through the National Debt Helpline — which is often the first point of contact for people experiencing financial difficulties, and to support one-on-one tele-financial counselling.
- Creating a short-form Financial Counselling course through Financial Counselling Australia to train new financial counsellors to boost the workforce, potentially providing hundreds of new jobs.
- Expanding access to safe, affordable financial products through the No Interest Loan Scheme which provides an immediate financial relief alternative to other high-risk, high-interest products such as credit cards and payday loans.
- $130 billion announcement
The JobKeeper Payment is a subsidy to businesses, which will keep more Australians in jobs through the course of the coronavirus outbreak.
The payment will be paid to employers, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.
Where a business has stood down employees since 1 March, the payment will help them maintain connection with their employees.
Employers will receive a payment of $1,500 per fortnight per eligible employee. Every eligible employee must receive at least $1,500 per fortnight from this business, before tax.
The program will commence on 30 March 2020, with the first payments to be received by eligible businesses in the first week of May as monthly arrears from the Australian Taxation Office. Eligible businesses can begin distributing the JobKeeper payment immediately and will be reimbursed from the first week of May.
The Government will provide updates on further business cashflow support in coming days.
Eligible employers will be those with annual turnover of less than $1 billion who self-assess that have a reduction in revenue of 30 per cent or more, since 1 March 2020 over a minimum one-month period. Employers with an annual turnover of $1 billion or more would be required to demonstrate a reduction in revenue of 50 per cent or more to be eligible. Businesses subject to the Major Bank Levy will not be eligible.
Eligible employers include businesses structured through companies, partnerships, trusts and sole traders. Not for profit entities, including charities, will also be eligible.
Full time and part time employees, including stood down employees, would be eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment. Where a casual employee has been with their employer for at least the previous 12 months they will also be eligible for the Payment. An employee will only be eligible to receive this payment from one employer.
Eligible employees include Australian residents, New Zealand citizens in Australia who hold a subclass 444 special category visa, and migrants who are eligible for JobSeeker Payment or Youth Allowance (Other).
Self-employed individuals are also eligible to receive the JobKeeper Payment.
Eligible businesses can apply for the payment online and are able to register their interest via ato.gov.au
The JobKeeper payment will bring the Government’s total economic support for the economy to $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of GDP.
More information is on this fact sheet – https://treasury.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-03/Fact_sheet_Info_for_Employers_0.pdf
Income support partner pay income test change
Over the next six months the Government is temporarily expanding access to income support payments and establishing a Coronavirus Supplement of $550 per fortnight.
JobSeeker Payment is subject to a partner income test, and today the Government is temporarily relaxing the partner income test to ensure that an eligible person can receive the JobSeeker Payment, and associated Coronavirus Supplement, providing their partner earns less than $3,068 per fortnight, around $79,762 per annum.
The personal income test for individuals on JobSeeker Payment will still apply.
Every arm of government and industry is working to keep Australians in jobs and businesses in business, and to build a bridge to recovery on the other side.
The Government will continue to do what it takes to ensure that Australia bounces back stronger.
- Centrelink assistance for those whose job has been affected by the Coronavirus
Register your ‘intent to claim’ via myGov at my.gov.au
This function makes it easier to register for financial support in minutes, without the need to call or come into a Centrelink service centre to get the claim process underway.
If you don’t have a myGov account find out how to get one here: https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/online-help/create-mygov-account
For more information visit www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/covid19
- Foreign Investment Laws have been changed
Foreign investment review laws will be changed to ensure the interests of regional, rural and remote businesses are protected through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
All proposed foreign investments into Australia subject to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 (the Act) will require approval, providing a significant protection for agricultural land. By bringing the threshold for screening down to zero dollars, the Australian Government will ensure all proposed foreign investments are appropriately scrutinised.
- Protecting Indigenous Communities
There has been considerable angst amongst indigenous communities concerning their increased risk of co-morbidity if an outbreak of Covid-19 occurs. Community leaders were consulted and asked if they wished to be included in these restricted zones and eight communities in Grey have chosen that path. They are identified in the map on this link https://www.niaa.gov.au/sites/default/files/publications/Designated_Biosecurity_Areas_SA.pdf
Movement into the following areas has been restricted from midnight Thursday 26th March. Anyone wishing to enter designated areas will need to self-isolate for 14 days before they can enter. This is a requirement under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act. The new restrictions also apply to residents of communities in these areas who leave and if they want to return then they must self-isolate for 14 days.
Essential service personnel will be exempt from the restrictions so they can keep delivering essential services and supplies as long as they meet health requirements and are symptom free. Even essential service personnel must avoid contact with people as much as possible while they are delivering the service.
People should remain in their communities unless it is essential for them to leave for medical treatment.
People in remote communities must also continue to observe the social distancing rules like keeping 1.5m away from other people.
More information is available at keeping remote communities safe (https://www.niaa.gov.au/covid19-remote-communities) and visiting www.health.gov.au
AND Last but not least – Thank You to all doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other frontline medical services!
If you have any feedback or questions please don’t hesitate to reply to this email or give one of my offices a call on the phone numbers listed below. I always welcome residents’ feedback.
Rowan Ramsey MP
Federal Member for Grey