Australia's parliament set to pass huge stimulus plan

by Reuters
Tuesday, 7 April 2020 23:33 GMT

By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY, April 8 (Reuters) - Australia's parliament will return on Wednesday in a slimmed down version to pass an emergency A$130 billion ($80 billion) stimulus package as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the country's economy.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Wednesday would become "one of the most important days in the history of the Australian parliament, as we come together across the political divide to save millions of Australian jobs".

"What we are absolutely focused on is getting the support to people who need it most," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Parliament will sit with fewer than normal lawmakers amid efforts to stop the virus from spreading, with some MPs given special permission to cross state boundaries to pass the legislation, the ABC reported.

The support measures come as economists predict the worst recession in Australia's history, with the unemployment rate almost doubling to near 10%. The Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday predicted a "very large" economic contraction in the current quarter.

Restrictions on people movement and gatherings to curb the spread of infection have forced many businesses in the hospitality, retail, transport and education sectors to shut down. Businesses that remain open face falling sales and increasing operational restrictions.

Police in Australia's most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) will patrol caravan parks over the long Easter weekend to make sure holidaymakers are not camping.

"People will be given one opportunity to pack up, go back to your home state and go back home. Otherwise, we will, unfortunately, have to issue tickets," NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

The total number of cases across Australia is creeping toward 6,000 with 49 deaths, although the pace of infections has slowed.

The early success in controlling the spread of the virus has fanned speculation some of the mobility restrictions could be eased from the beginning of May.

Asked about such a move, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a televised briefing in Sydney that "there could be a chance, if the health experts deem it appropriate."

However, she warned it could lead to a second wave of infections.

"Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die. And it's a horrible situation to be in, but they're the choices and we need to be up-front about that." ($1 = 1.6226 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Swati Pandey; Additional reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin)

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