Frydenberg to reconsider Vic support plea

·3-min read

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says he will listen to Victoria's renewed request to activate JobKeeper-style support for workers as the lockdown continues.

The Victorian government has thrown an extra $209 million into propping up Melbourne businesses through the second week of the now-extended shutdown.

But thousands of laid-off city workers, particularly those among the casual workforce, are now facing at least a further seven days without their regular pay cheque.

While unveiling the initial $250 million business package on Sunday, Victoria's Treasurer Tim Pallas branded the federal government's refusal to chip in with financial support for workers a "disgrace".

Acting Premier James Merlino took a more measured approach on Wednesday, saying he would lobby the prime minister to reconsider his stance.

"I do hope that the Commonwealth will swiftly confirm that they will step up and provide that support," he told reporters.

"If they do not, I will be raising this directly at national cabinet on Friday."

Speaking in Canberra, Mr Frydenberg said he would give the state's request a fair hearing.

"I have a constructive relationship with him (Mr Pallas) despite his comments in recent days," he said.

"I will speak to him. The prime minister will speak to James Merlino. Our health officials will talk, and we'll consider that in due course."

He hinted any decision to extend lockdown support would not be localised and instead involve a broader policy shift.

"What we need to think about, obviously given the pandemic is still with us, is how we approach this on a national basis," Mr Frydenberg said.

"It's not about Victoria, Western Australia or individual cases. We will stick to our principles."

The Kooyong MP noted lockdown-hit Victorian workers could apply for JobSeeker payments, with the removal of the regular waiting period and mutual obligation requirements.

But Mr Merlino said Victorian businesses and workers were crying out for more targeted support from the federal government.

"The ball is in the federal government's court," he said.

Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said the time for delay and debate was over.

"People are again missing shifts, losing their jobs and struggling to pay their bills," she said.

"The federal government must step up and provide emergency support to Victoria."

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra echoed that call, saying the reintroduction of a JobKeeper-like scheme would be the simplest and easiest fix.

"Victoria can't do this alone. The federal government has done a great job to keep businesses afloat through JobKeeper and we need them to step up to the plate again," Mr Zahra said.

Victoria's Treasury estimated the seven-day statewide lockdown would cost the economy $700 million, a figure set to blow out well beyond $1 billion even with restrictions set to ease for regional businesses.

Melbourne's Chapel Street Precinct general manager Chrissie Maus said no government grant would come close to covering the true losses felt by traders.

The opening of grant applications for the state's $459 million support package was pushed back to Thursday to ensure small to medium-size businesses and sole traders didn't have to go through the process twice.

Opposition leader Michael O'Brien said the one-day delay would cause further anguish.

"If you're a small business operator, if you're worried about your staff, 24 hours is a long time," he said.

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