Prime Minister Scott Morrison kept the aviation industry guessing as to whether he would extend JobKeeper payments for the sector during his first big speech of the year on Monday.
Speaking at the Canberra Press Club, PM Morrison hinted the government’s help for businesses in 2021 would favour tax cuts over financial aid. “We are not running a blank cheque budget,” he said.
It comes a week after 14 aviation unions and companies, including Virgin Australia and the TWU, signed an industry open letter to Morrison urging him to create a AviationKeeper-style payment.
“Our task now is to continue our economic recovery by sticking to our Economic Recovery Plan and, importantly, exercising the fiscal discipline necessary to ensure that we do not overburden future generations and continue to spend taxpayers’ money wisely,” said PM Morrison on Monday.
“We know our JobKeeper and many household supports have helped to boost families and businesses balance their balance sheets.
“This has been a game-changer like no other we have seen in this country. It saved not just livelihoods – it saved lives.
“There is now a large sum of money available to be spent across the economy and that’s what’s going to help create jobs and help maintain the momentum of our economic recovery, and that is where it needs to be right now.
“Indeed, in 2021, the government will continue putting more money back into Australians’ pockets, keeping more of what they earned to support their families and businesses, the low- and middle-income tax offset, the tax cut from 26 to 25 per cent for small and medium-size businesses, creating jobs and our loss carry-back providing a much-needed cash flow boost for those businesses who continue to do it tough.”
PM Morrison’s non-commitment comes a day after federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg ruled out a general JobKeeper extension, arguing it was “always a temporary program”.
“While many Australian jobs have begun to return after the lockdowns of 2020, the same cannot be said of the aviation sector which, due to border closures, remains decimated,” said the Australian Services Union national secretary Robert Potter on Monday.
“Around 11,000 jobs in the aviation sector have been lost since the beginning of the pandemic and these are unlikely to return until late 2021 or 2022.
“With their industry remaining closed, aviation workers and their families desperately need ongoing income support through JobKeeper.”
Last week’s open letter, meanwhile, was signed by the unions the TWU, ETU, AMWU, ALAEA, FAAA, AWU, VIPA and AFAP; and the businesses Virgin Australia, Menzies, dnata, Gate Gourmet and Swissport.
“As unions and employers representing tens of thousands of workers and contractors across aviation, we urge you to implement an ‘aviation keeper’ wage subsidy to ensure that the aviation industry can sustain the lasting impact of the pandemic while maintaining and supporting its skilled and highly trained workforce,” read the letter.
The JobKeeper package was introduced to provide coronavirus-effected business with an initial $1,500 per employee, per fortnight.
Companies are then legally obliged to pass that payment onto workers in a bid to keep the economy active during the pandemic.
However, the scheme has proved problematic for much of the aviation industry.
Many airport workers, such as those at Newcastle, are locked out of the financial package because their firms are council-owned; while staff at dnata were similarly told they were no longer eligible because their company is owned by a foreign government.
The letter, therefore, asked for the scheme to be extended to those omitted and be phased out as borders open and confidence returns.