Scott Morrison appeared frustrated during consecutive media appearances on Tuesday as he discussed Australia’s ongoing battle against COVID-19.
The prime minister appeared on the ABC’s 7.30 program with Leigh Sales to discuss the changes to the JobKeeper scheme, just hours after he shut down a reporter during live questions at his press conference.
When he was grilled about his government’s contribution to the arts sector, Mr Morrison was quick to reject any suggestion he hadn’t done enough to keep the industry afloat.
‘We can take the arts, film, TV, books, music that’s really sustained people a lot during the lockdown,’ Sales said.
‘That sector contributes billions to the Australian economy and employ 600,000 people. Fewer than half are eligible for JobKeeper.’
‘That’s not true,’ Mr Morrison interrupted.
He repeated the line again before saying ‘no, I’m sorry. JobKeeper has been an absolute lifeline for them’.
The veteran journalist also cited flaws with the government subsidies, particularly the $60billion overestimate of JobKeeper.
‘If Labor in power had made those blunders, the Coalition would be screaming absolute blue murder about economic mismanagement,’ Sales said.
Mr Morrison said the decision to create a flat rate for JobKeeper payments also took into consideration that a lot of part time workers had second or third jobs which were lost during the crisis.
Mr Morrison appeared frustrated to be repeating himself yet again as he urged Australians to keep up social distancing practices and following health directives.
‘It [the virus] hasn’t gone anywhere, and we can’t act like it has,’ he said at the end of a long spiel about the way Australians should be living in the coming weeks.
When Sales suggested an ‘aggressive suppression’ of the virus was impossible, Mr Morrison fired back and asked what she would do in his position.
‘Well what’s the alternative, Leigh?’ Mr Morrison asked. ‘We’re in uncharted waters. The whole world is. Everyone is working together and I think we’re learning from that.
‘All leaders, all governments, are seeking to work together and learn from each other. Everyone is endeavouring to put their best foot forward.
‘Australia is doing better than almost every country in the western world.’
Mr Morrison also defended the implementation of the COVIDSafe app, despite it so far not identifying a single new case of community transmission.
The app has successfully worked alongside manual contact tracing, Mr Morrison said.
Sales suggested Australians simply ‘bin the app’.
‘That would be dangerous,’ he said. ‘What it does is it works with the manual tracing, the two go together.’
He instead suggested coronavirus-riddled communities in Victoria simply hadn’t downloaded the app enough.
‘In many other states and territories, they haven’t had any cases for community transmission where it could have provided any role because you’re able to track the source to a quarantine case or something of that nature,’ he said.
‘So I found the COVIDSafe sledges that have been coming a little bit politically opportunistic.’
The tense interview came just hours after Mr Morrison told a reporter that no-one cares about his question during a press conference to announce the extension of JobKeeper on Tuesday morning.
Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell asked the prime minister if he was planning to call an election next year to capitalise on his popularity.
A stern Mr Morrison responded by saying Australians do not care about the next election when people are dying in Victoria.
‘Politics is nowhere near my mind,’ he said.
‘I mean, I don’t think Australians could care less when the next election was and, frankly, right now it’s got nothing factoring into my thinking not at all.
‘I know it may totally fascinate people who stand in this courtyard, at least some of them, but it is just not a factor,’ the prime minister continued.
‘I mean, we have got an outbreak in Victoria and people are dying and you’re asking me questions about when the next election is.
‘I think we need to focus on what the real issues are here and it’s not when the next election is.’
Mr Morrison then moved on to another question without letting the reporter reply.
Speculation has been growing that Mr Morrison will call an election next year because he is so popular after successfully handling the coronavirus crisis.
A Newspoll on Monday found Mr Morrison has a 33-point lead as preferred prime minister over Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
Mr Morrison is on 59 per cent while his rival’s support remains steady at 26 per cent.
The prime minister on Tuesday announced that JobKeeper will be extended until March but two million Australians will lose access from September as the payment and the JobSeeker supplement are reduced by $300.
Scott Morrison today announced the wage subsidy, which currently helps 3.5million Australians, will be reduced in phases as the economy recovers from coronavirus lockdowns.
The payment was due to end on 27 September but instead it will be decreased from $1,500 to $1,200-a-fortnight.
A lower rate of $750-a-fortnight will go to people who worked fewer than 20 hours a week in February, before coronavirus struck.
The two-tiered system has been brought in because one in four casuals are earning more on JobKeeper than when they worked.
From 4 January, the payments will be reduced to $1,000-a-fortnight for full time staff and to $650-a-fortnight for those who worked fewer than 20 hours.
Fewer businesses will be eligible for JobKeeper as they must continue to prove a revenue decline of 30 per cent compared to before coronavirus.
Many will not meet this threshold because business has picked up after lockdowns ended.
This means that the number of people on JobKeeper is expected to decline from 3.5million now to 1.4million between October and December, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said today.
From January 1million people are expected to receive the payment.
Australian Council of Trade Unions boss Sally McManus said she feared the lower rates would lead to mass sackings.
‘Businesses will be getting less support from the government per worker so they may decide to cut numbers,’ she said.
From September 24 the JobSeeker supplement will be reduced from $550 to $250, meaning the total benefit will be worth $800-a-fortnight instead of $1,100 in total.
That level will last until December 31 and the Prime Minister expects some level of supplement to remain beyond that.
JobSeekers will be able to earn $300 while keeping their full benefits.
They will have to apply for four jobs a month to qualify for the benefits and must not refuse a job if offered.