Australia will spend $11.8 billion to extend its wage subsidies for businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as a surge in new infections in the country’s southeast threatens to keep the economy in recession.
The six-month extension of the programme allays fears a hard end to the current A$70 billion scheme, originally scheduled for Sept. 30, that would prolong Australia’s first recession in three decades.
However, subsidies will be reduced under the new programme, which runs through to March 28, 2021 and is expected to cover about 1 million workers, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government seeks to wean the economy of fiscal support.
“It has to scale down and work ourselves off these supports because they’re not enduring, they cannot be permanent, they were never designed to be permanent,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
Australia launched its support programme in March with fortnightly payments for workers from affected businesses of $1,049. The scheme covered all workers, including those who only worked casual shifts.
Under scaled-back subsidies, recipients will receive A$1,200 a fortnight, while those who work less than 20 hours a week will receive A$700 every two weeks. From Jan. 1, payments will fall to A$1,000 and A$650 a fortnight, respectively.
The wage supplements have helped 3.5 million Australians and are widely credited with propping up the ailing economy after widespread social distancing restrictions paralysed businesses. However, Morrison said changes were needed to ensure enough support to the economy without overpaying casual workers.
Morrison said his government will also trim unemployment benefits, which were increased in March by A$550 a fortnight until Sept. 30. While the benefits will continue, they will be more than halved.