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Millions of Australians fall through the cracks in recovery bridge

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - 2020/04/07: People take coffee while keeping social distance during the covid-19 crisis.(Photo by Florent Rols/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Do you know what? I’m pretty impressed with what the government has announced to try and stop the coronavirus crisis becoming an economic one. All the measures are – as they’ve been sold – temporary and targeted… And at their heart, they seek to be fair.

Giving everyone a $1,500 wage replacement, regardless of previous salary, is one example (for some this even represents a pay rise).

Another instance is extending the coronavirus supplement due to be added from April 27 to benefits, to existing recipients of JobSeeker (the renamed Newstart). There has long been criticism that people can’t survive on the amount being paid.

And a two-tiered system would have been dreadfully unfair (although all pensioners, including those on disability pensions, were sadly left out).

But now we know all the economic-emergency measures, we also know the enormous omissions. And they’re going to cost people’s livelihoods.

The huge holes in JobKeeper

More than 1 million casual workers with less than one year of service are going to miss out. Having said that, Labor and the Greens intend to keep fighting on their behalf. Also, at least these people should be able to access Centrelink’s JobSeeker (see below).

Of greater concern is the circa 1 million other people who are in Australia on temporary visas. Scott Morrison has said: “It’s time to go home.” That’s all well and good but, with many country borders closed, most of them can’t. Flights are pretty scarce too!

These people may, in fact, be stranded here without access to any kind of income safety net if they can’t find work. Without Medicare. It’s hugely concerning, particularly when their own countries may be in too much turmoil to think about these ‘outlier’ issues.

To qualify for JobKeeper, businesses need to have seen a 30 percent drop in revenue (if they have revenue of less than $1 billion a year). That cuts out those that had a dodgy year last year, or were investing in or building up to a great year this year.

It condemns them to try and struggle through, with no financial assistance or ability to “hibernate” like the government wants. Many small businesses also have irregular income; proving eligibility could ‘prove’ a monthly issue.

TAMWORTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 04: A man walks past closed retail stores along Peel Street on April 04, 2020 in Tamworth, Australia. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Casual teachers in particular have been dudded by these reforms. I’ve heard from some who have been working for the same school for 10 years on a casual basis. Many schools won’t see the requisite revenue drop so won’t qualify for JobKeeper, and of course no government school will. So these teachers’ only hope is the lower paid JobSeeker.

There is also the critical date of March 1 to have been employed (note you can be reinstated and receive it if you lost your job after that). Someone desperately emailed me recently: she’d happily started a new job just days later and now can’t get a replacement income from either employer.

Now, you are not supposed to be required to use up your annual leave up to a two-week buffer – the idea is this needs to be mutually agreed between employer and employee – but how many people think an employee will have much bargaining power? At least the leave must be paid at their full rate.

Where JobSeeker lets people down

There are hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who have made Australia their home – paying taxes year after year and often having their children here – but not bothered to go through the citizenship process. There’s never been a great need.

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 09: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on April 09, 2020 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

But these quasi-Aussies don’t qualify for benefits from Centrelink. It’s to be welcomed that those on 444 visas were included in JobKeeper… but they might not get that either due to one of the reasons above.

The removal of the assets test (and waiting period) was welcome, but applicants still have to go through the rigmarole of disclosing those assets, in case they earn any income from them. Some people are spending up to 5 days doing the required documentation, when this was supposed to be highly accessible, emergency support.

Particularly for the self-employed and small business owners, who were supposed told they were being looked after, the bureaucracy is proving a nightmare.

I refer you to my comment earlier about no coronavirus supplement on paltry pensions. These benefit recipients do, however, potentially get two $750 cash payments (all of the first payments should have landed within days).

No winners amid renters/tenants/property managers

NONE of these parties look to be in a good situation… and unless they get official guidance, seem likely to have to negotiate their way out of it. All we know is that there is a six-month moratorium on evictions.

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For commercial properties, eligibility for JobKeeper is a trigger for a decrease in rent ‘proportionate’ to the fall in revenue, and this must be supported by a mortgage repayment holiday if necessary.

Similar needs to happen in residential property with consideration given to the fact that property managers, whose income is a slice of rent, need to still make income. ALL the parties need to be as reasonable as possible: #NoMoreThanEnough right now!

‘A big screw you’: Landlords warn tenants full rent is ‘required’

‘No free lunch’: Eviction ban leaves landlords thousands out of pocket

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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