JobKeeper hotline to be established, ATO ramps up workforce

JobKeeper hotline to be established, ATO ramps up workforce

A hotline managed by the Big Four banks will be deployed to help businesses get bridging finance before JobKeeper payments hit their bank accounts.

At a press conference today the Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said businesses eligible for JobKeeper must continue to pay staff before the stimulus is received.

To ensure this happens Australia's major banks, in partnership with the Federal Government, will establish a hotline for businesses that need bridging finance in the meantime.

"Our message today is if you are a business or a not for profit operation that is eligible for the JobKeeper payment, as required, you need to pay your staff ahead of receiving the money from the Tax Office," Frydenberg said.

"Go to your bank, ring their hotline, ask for that support, and that support will be forthcoming."

While the banks are setting up this hotline, the Federal Government is reinforcing the Australian Tax Office with a "surge" in new staff to manage JobKeeper payments.

According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison there have been 3,000 new staff added to the ATO.

In addition, 5,000 new staff have been brought onto Services Australia, which manages JobSeeker and other social benefits claims.

These new staff have been madly processing an influx of applications for both the JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs. The PM says so far Services Australia has processed around 587,585 applications for JobSeeker, while 275,000 businesses have applied for JobKeeper.

"That is more than we do in a year," the PM said.

"That has been an extraordinary effort from those services and I also want to thank the patience of Australians for the way they have been engaging with Government Services Australia."

Further, the ATO has approved 456,000 applications for early access to superannuation, equating to around $3.8 billion in payments. These claims will be paid out in the next five days.

"The average withdrawal is around $8,000," Frydenberg said.

"The ATO has also paid out $3 billion to 177,000 businesses employing 2.1 million Australians as part of our cashflow boost measure, which was a measure designed to support businesses, keep people employed, meet their fixed costs, by linking those payments - up to $100,000 and a minimum of $20,000 - to those payrolls."

The PM also confirmed that the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) has raised over $40 billion, with two thirds of that raise in bonds and the other third in notes.

"The AOFM has indicated the trading volumes and pricing out to around 12-year bonds are returning to more normal levels," says Morrison.

"Now, our ability to raise this sort of finance in these sorts of markets, I think, says a lot about the standing of Australia in these financial markets and the credit worthiness of Australia and this will be critical to ensure that we can continue to provide this economic lifeline Australians."

Australia to open borders to New Zealand first

When asked about easing certain restrictions regarding travel and gatherings, the Prime Minister said he had been in discussions with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about potentially reopening borders.

The PM says if we were to relax international travel restrictions it would be to and from New Zealand first.

"If there is any country in the world with whom we can reconnect with first, undoubtedly that's New Zealand," Morrison said.

"We have similar trajectories, their restrictions have been far greater, our case response has been the same if not better than New Zealand. So if there's any country where we can look to achieve that then I would have thought New Zealand would be the obvious candidate."

Morrison's comments come as Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy stressed this morning that restrictions on international travel would remain in place for at least another three to four months.

Speaking to the Senate Committee into Australia's response to Covid-19, Murphy said any relaxation of border measures would be "very risky".

"We've just recommended to the National Cabinet that we continue the very restrictive bans on Australians basically leaving the country unless there are exceptional circumstances, or anyone except Australian citizens coming back," Murphy said.

The CMO hinted the National Cabinet was considering easing restrictions on small groups in the coming weeks, with community sport potentially the first to be greenlit.

Large scale gatherings like music festivals and sporting events are still completely off the table according to Murphy, implying the tough social distancing measures imposed on Australians could be eased in a reverse order to how they were implemented.

Environmental approvals for major projects achieved at a faster rate in March quarter

The Prime Minister has stressed that the Government is working at a rapid pace to pass environmental approvals for major projects to stimulate the economy.

In the December quarter 19 per cent of projects were being approved on time, but that statistic has shot up in the March quarter to 87 per cent.

"Ensuring that we're moving quickly through approval processes and providing that certainty for business investment and the regulatory arrangements that are in place, that will be a two part economic recovery strategy," says Morrison.

Updated at 12:47PM AEST on 23 April 2020.

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