Staff writers

Email Staff writers

Long Centrelink queues in Cairns highlight dramatic impact of coronavirus crisis


UPDATE:

A Cairns economist has predicted the local unemployment rate will peak at 18% during the coronavirus crisis.

Bill Cummings was asked by Cairns Regional Council to estimate job losses.

Mayor Bob Manning said 18% would be the highest unemployment rate Cairns has ever seen.

"It just expresses the size of what this is," he said.

"Those percentages are the number of people, the number of lives, the number of children that we're going to see start to learn to go without.

"If you see someone who's in trouble, someone who is having a rough time, go and talk to them and offer to help out.

"This pressure will play out in so many ways in the household.

"Households will not be happy households.

"We leave nobody behind."

Cr Manning has teamed up with the Federal Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, and the State Member for Cairns, Michael Healy, to identify people who may fall through the gaps and to ensure support mechanisms are in place.

One of their first initiatives will be to develop an online platform specifically for Cairns jobseekers to help them get work in other industries.

The avocado harvest on the Tablelands was singled out as an example of a labour-seeking field, due to the lack of backpackers. 

EARLIER:

There were heartbreaking scenes outside Centrelink offices in Cairns this morning as hundreds of people queued to access financial assistance in the wake of mass job sackings in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

At the Aplin Street Centrelink office, a line snaked all the way around the corner into Grafton Street. 

Police were also on hand, enforcing social distancing requirements.



The long Centrelink queues are believed to be mostly first-time welfare recipients who have been told they can only get a customer reference number by applying in person.

The MyGov website has also crashed but is now up and running again.

Local businesses have been shedding staff and cutting employee hours as the economy takes a battering and strict new restrictions are introduced, including the shut down of venues like cafes, restaurants and pubs that come into effect today with the aim of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.



From midday today, several venues will be closed.

They include:

  • pubs
  • clubs
  • cinemas
  • casinos
  • nightclubs
  • indoor places of worship
  • gyms
  • indoor sporting venues

Cafes and restaurants can still operate but only to offer takeaway and deliveries.

Hotels can also remain open but only in an accommodation capacity.



As it tries to cushion the economic blow, the Federal Government has released a new $66 billion financial assistance package, including the doubling of dole payments.

A temporary Coronavirus Supplement of $550 a fortnight will go to new and existing income support recipients from 27 April for six months.

People will receive their usual payment plus $550 each fortnight but only if they're receiving a:

  • JobSeeker Payment
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Youth Allowance for jobseekers
  • Parenting Payment Partnered
  • Parenting Payment Single
  • Partner Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Farm Household Allowance

As well, a second Economic Support payment of $750 will go to people holding one of the following concession cards:

  • Age Pension
  • Disability Support Pension
  • Carer Payment
  • Parenting Payment
  • Wife Pension
  • Widow B Pension
  • ABSTUDY (Living Allowance)
  • Austudy
  • Bereavement Allowance
  • Newstart Allowance
  • Youth Allowance
  • Partner Allowance
  • Sickness Allowance
  • Special Benefit
  • Widow Allowance
  • Family Tax Benefit, including Double Orphan Pension
  • Carer Allowance
  • Pensioner Concession Card holders
  • Commonwealth Seniors Health Card holders
  • Veteran Service Pension; Veteran Income Support Supplement; Veteran Compensation payments, including lump sum payments; War Widow(er) Pension; and Veteran Payment
  • DVA PCC holders; DVA Education Scheme recipients; Disability Pensioners at the temporary special rate; DVA Income support pensioners at $0 rate
  • Veteran Gold Card holders
  • Farm Household Allowance

    People will only be eligible for one or the other.

    Other measures include:

    • A payment delivered by the tax office as a credit on activity statements for not-for-profits and small businesses of up to $100,000, so they can continue paying staff
    • Allowing eligible people to access $10,000 from their superannuation
    • Guaranteeing unsecured small business loans up to $250,000


    What remains open

    supermarkets
    banks
    petrol stations
    pharmacies
    convenience stores
    freight and logistics
    food delivery
    bottle shops
    hairdressers and beauticians