WEEKLY COVID-19 UPDATE

  • April 17th, 2020 at 11:56 am

MARCH LABOUR FORCE FIGURES

Labour force figures released today by the ABS show a small increase in the unemployment rate to 5.2 per cent.

While these figures exceeded all market expectations for the month of March and saw the creation of 5,900 jobs, the data only represents the early impacts of COVID-19. The Government expects the unemployment rate to rise over the coming months.

Importantly, whilst Treasury modelling forecasts unemployment to peak at around 10 per cent, the Morrison Government’s $320 billion support package including the $130 billion JobKeeper payment has meant that we will avoid much higher levels of unemployment.

Today’s labour force figures are beginning to reflect the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the labour market. It is important to note that Australia entered this crisis from a position of economic strength and record employment. Since the Government came to office in September 2013, more than 1.5 million jobs have been created.

Over the year to March 2020, employment has risen by 227,700 (or 1.8 per cent), in line with the decade average annual growth rate.

While full-time employment fell slightly in March, by 400, it is 91,700 (or 1.0 per cent) higher than it was a year ago.

Part-time employment rose by 6,400 in March and is 136,000 (or 3.4 per cent) higher than it was a year ago.

In order to help keep businesses in businesses and keep Australians in jobs through the pandemic, the Government is delivering $130 billion in JobKeeper payments to support around 6 million Australian workers and keep workers connected to their employer.

This historic wage subsidy means that eligible workers will receive a flat payment of $1,500 per fortnight through their employer, before tax, to help cushion the negative impact of COVID-19.

The Government will continue to work collaboratively with the experts and our State and Territory counterparts, in order to respond decisively and effectively to the health and economic challenges that confront us during this pandemic.

UPDATE ON SOCIAL DISTANCING AND RESTRICTION MEASURES

The assessment of the state and territory chief health officers, is the precedent conditions required for change were unlikely to be in place within the next four weeks and cautioned against any material change in measures in this time. However, if Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) supply could be assured, there could be further consideration of recommencing some high value health service activity including elective surgery.

Today, National Cabinet agreed to follow the advice of state and territory chief health officers who have recommended seven conditions before any relaxation of the current social distancing and restrictions.  Work will continue over the next four weeks:

  • Situational awareness of current measures and their impact – sophisticated surveillance of disease incidence and spread, health system status, public health capabilities, stocks of material and community adherence to public health measures.
  • Finalised surveillance plan – enabled with adequate resources.
  • A better understanding of the implications of the modelling and a better understanding of the characteristics and transmission of the virus.
  • Complete maturation of public health capacity – including capacity to conduct testing more broadly; and public health workforce and technology for contact tracing, data collection and analysis.
  • Advanced technology for contact tracing – the role of a mobile phone application should be wholly explored, as it could be a valuable tool in contact tracing if numbers increase and the application is widely taken up. This would act to complement and augment our current public health contact tracing strategies and enable scale-back strategies.
  • Assurance of adequate health system capacity – should control measures fail, there must be assurance that the system will cope with any surge in cases, including the requirement for hospital beds, ventilators, PPE and ongoing workforce training.
  • Assurance of supply lines for – PPE, pathology consumables, ventilators.

National Cabinet agreed that Australia will continue to progress a successful suppression/elimination strategy.

NATIONAL PRINCIPLES FOR SCHOOLS

Today, National Cabinet agreed with the state and territory chief health officers advice that “on current evidence, schools can be fully open” along with the “practical guidance and advice” the chief health officers provided school leaders to even further reduce the “relatively low risk” of transmission in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Cabinet also agreed to a series of National Principles for School Education, as follows:

  • Our schools are critical to the delivery of high quality education for students and to give our children the best possible start in life. Our education systems are based on the recognition that education is best delivered by professional teachers to students in the classroom on a school campus.
  • It is accepted that during the COVID-19 crisis, alternative flexible, remote delivery of education services may be needed
  • Our schools must be healthy and safe environments for students, teachers and other staff to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of education to students.
  • State and Territory Governments and non-government sector authorities are responsible for managing and making operational decisions for their school systems respectively, subject to compliance with relevant funding agreements with the Commonwealth.
  • Decisions regarding the response to COVID-19 in the schooling sector must continue to be informed by expert, official, national and state-based public health and education advice, consistent with these national principles.
  • All students must continue to be supported by their school to ensure participation in quality education during the COVID 19 crisis.
  • The health advice consistently provided by the AHPPC is that attendance at a school campus for education represents a very low health risk to students. The advice also notes that appropriate practices must be employed at schools, like at other workplaces, to provide a safe working environment for school staff, including teachers, and that the specific AHPPC advice regarding school campuses should be followed.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Provided by the Office of Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business