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National cabinet agrees to extend pandemic leave payment

National cabinet has agreed to extend indefinitely pandemic emergency payments beyond the cut-off date of September 30.

September 14, 2022
By Maeve Bannister
14 September 2022

National cabinet has agreed to indefinitely extend the payments for people forced to isolate because of Covid-19.

The payments for infected people while they are away from work, which were set to expire at the end of the month, will remain in place as long as mandatory isolation periods are in effect.

The extension comes following the latest national cabinet meeting between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state and territory leaders on Wednesday.

Albanese said the payments would be shared 50-50 between the Commonwealth and states and territories.

“We remain obviously of the view that if people are sick, whether from COVID or from other health issues, they should not be at work and that is important,” Albanese told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

“The government has a responsibility to provide support during that period for the appropriate period which is designated.”

The financial support had been due to lapse at the end of September, despite people who test positive for the virus still being required to isolate for five days.

The payments were originally set to end in July, but were extended by the government following a backlash coupled with a surge of Covid-19 cases into winter.

Since the start of the pandemic the leave payments have cost taxpayers more than $2.2 billion, including $320 million since the support was extended in July.  

Before extending the support under public pressure, the government had said the cost on the budget was too high. 

Albanese said he welcomed the earlier decision to cut the isolation requirement time from seven days to five, and would discuss the removal of public health orders.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reaffirmed his support for moving away from mandated orders to a system of “respect” where if a person is sick, they stay at home.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was unlikely his state could continue the measure without financial support from the federal government.

“While these matters are principally … for the Commonwealth, we have arrangements in place now and I think the best we’ll do is see them extended on the basis that they’re currently being paid,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

Call for inquiry into pandemic response

Meanwhile, independent federal MP Monique Ryan has called for a summit on how Covid-19 can be managed in the community in the future, as national cabinet prepares to discuss extending pandemic leave payments.

Ryan, who worked as a medical researcher and paediatric neurologist before entering parliament, is concerned about the rolling back of mitigation strategies to combat the virus.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the fact that the government seems to have been winding back the mitigation strategies … without really a plan for how this is going to affect people going forward,” she told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

“The reality is Covid is still with us … pretending that it’s going away or that it has gone away, it’s just not working for people.”

Ryan says a summit should be held to examine how coronavirus infections will be handled in coming years, amid concerns the upcoming northern hemisphere winter see the emergence of more sub-variants.

“What people do need is a sense of surety, and I guess confidence, that the government does have a plan,” she said.

“It’s planning for people to say ‘look, it’s with us, we can’t wish it away, it’s here, this is what we’re going to do about it and this is how we’re going to keep everybody safe’.”

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