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Frydenberg to reveal JobKeeper replacement in days

written by Adam Thorn | March 9, 2021
Qantas A380 takes off from YMML (Phillip Gelling)
Qantas A380 takes off from YMML (Phillip Gelling)

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday the government’s replacement for JobKeeper will be announced “in the coming days”.

It follows newspaper speculation that the help will take the form of low-interest loans and grants to tourism-related businesses.

JobKeeper payments are set to end nationwide at the end of March, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far remained tight-lipped as exactly what support would follow.

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Frydenberg told Peter Stefanovic on Monday that he was still working through the “final details” of the package in conjunction with the Prime Minister, Deputy PM and Trade Minister.

He then told Karl Stefanovic on The Today Show, “We realise that there are sectors and there are regions that are doing it tough, but the best thing we can always do is keep those domestic borders open.

“It is a message I heard in Cairns yesterday from many in the tourism sector. While they are relying on international tourism, they also benefit from domestic tourism and with the roll-out of the vaccine if we stop those short border lockdowns, that will give a lot more Australians the certainty to pack their bags, hop on the plane, take a holiday and then, of course, spend their hard-earned money.”

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine warned against grants and loans, instead arguing that an ‘AviationKeeper’ style payment was preferable.

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“Aviation is about to bleed skills as Jobkeeper falls off a cliff,” said Kaine. “The only solution the federal government appears able to come up with is to replace it with free money to companies without any conditions attached on retaining workers.

“This exposes how the federal government has no plan and no strategy for aviation. Interest-free loans are another way of saying ‘bailout’. Now is the time for the federal government to secure a real return for the taxpayer and to take an equity stake in ailing aviation companies.”

Since the start of the year, a number of senior industry figures have urged the government to continue providing some form of support.

In February, Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka told a Senate committee that ending JobKeeper would be “devastating”.

She added it might be “impossible” for the business to “bear the financial cost” of operating in a market where borders are opening and closing without warning.

“We cannot predict when it will end,” said Hrdlicka. “We don’t know whether we have two more years to go. We don’t know whether we have two weeks.”

Hrdlicka’s plea was made shortly after an industry open letter was sent to the Prime Minister urging an ‘AviationKeeper’ payment.

It was signed by the businesses Virgin Australia, Menzies, dnata, Gate Gourmet and Swissport and the unions the TWU, ETU, AMWU, ALAEA, FAAA, AWU, VIPA and AFAP.

Both the TWU and ASU have also conducted surveys showing how reliant the industry still is on the payments.

The former’s survey of more than 900 people revealed just one in ten workers in the aviation industry are back to full hours and that one in four workers remain stood down from their jobs.

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.

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