Australian households struggling with financial stress brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will soon have access to hardship provisions for their energy and water bills.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced new national COVID-19 measures for hardship support across essential services for households and small businesses.
“State and territory governments agreed to adopt similar principles for the essential services within their remit, including water utilities and local governments,” he said in a statement.
“They will work with the organisations supplying those services to apply the principles to each sector.”
He said the measures will also ensure access to support for essential services is “as simple and easy as possible”.
“They specify that businesses eligible for the JobKeeper payment will automatically be considered to be under ‘financial stress’ for the purposes of accessing hardship arrangements,” the statement said.
Mr Morrison said the principles are modelled on the government’s recently released Statement of Expectations for the energy sector and include offering flexible payment options to all households and small businesses in financial stress – including small businesses eligible for the JobKeeper Payment.
It also includes not disconnecting restricting supply/services to those in financial stress; deferring debt recovery proceedings and credit default listing; waiving late fees and interest charges on debt; and minimising planned outages for critical works, and provide as much notice as possible to assist households and businesses during any outage.
“Those who can continue to pay their bills need to keep doing so – this is critical to ensuring the ongoing viability of essential services providers,” the statement said.
“But we need to ensure an appropriate safety net is in place for those experiencing financial stress.
“These are extremely challenging times. It is vital that essential service providers work with governments to deliver the support the Australian people need.”
Mr Morrison said new provisions have also been made for those in the agricultural and aviation sector.
He said the National Cabinet had implemented visa measures to support the agricultural workforce needed to secure Australia food supplies.
The measures including urgently working on the associated changes to the Seasonal Worker Program and Pacific Labour Scheme to ensure appropriate labour market testing continues; making sure the same conditions that apply under the Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme visa arrangements will be carried over to the new visa arrangements, including employer sponsorship to continue the link with the agricultural sector.
“Commonwealth and state and territory Agriculture Ministers will oversee and coordinate implementation and will report back to National Cabinet on progress,” Mr Morrison said.
He said National Cabinet also agreed state and territory governments are responsible for the introduction and enforcement of self-isolation requirements to avoid the spread of coronavirus; applying sanctions where those requirements are not met and, where appropriate, referring concerns about visa holder compliance to the Department of Home Affairs for action.
They are also responsible for ensuring accommodation complies with self-isolation and social distancing requirements, in conjunction with local governments and the National Farmers Federation; and seeking to harmonise these requirements as far as practical.
He said the National Cabinet agreed Australian and state and territory governments will undertake best efforts for these arrangements to be in place by 17 April 2020.
The Australian Border Force, in consultation with the Commonwealth Department of Health, will continue to manage the safe movement of maritime crew.
National Cabinet also agreed on the immediate exemption for non-cruise maritime crew “to provide for the transiting to and from their places of work, within and across jurisdictions with agreed documentation”.
“National Cabinet agreed to implement the revised advice from the AHPPC in relation to air crew quarantine exemptions. As a result, air crew on international flights will be required to self-isolate at their place of residence (or hotel if not in their local city) between flights or for 14 days, whichever is shorter,” Mr Morrison said in his statement.
“Domestic air crew are exempt from self-isolation requirements except when a state or territory specifically prohibits entry.”
There are more than 6,100 confirmed cases in Australia and 51 deaths.
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