July 20, 2020 / 12:37 PM / 18 days ago

Australia to offer smaller wage subsidy from October, treasurer to say

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will continue subsidising the wages of workers from businesses damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will say on Tuesday, but Canberra will trim the size of payments and tighten the eligibility rules.

FILE PHOTO: The new Treasurer Josh Frydenberg attends the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

Continued fiscal support will ease fears that Australia will suffer a hard economic landing in September when the government’s centrepiece policy expires, a fortnightly payment of A$1,500 (830.97 pounds) to workers of businesses damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Known as JobKeeper, Australia is on course to spend A$70 billion to subsidise the wages of about 3.5 million people - a scheme that is widely credited with propping up Australia’s ailing economy.

But with most states and territories beginning to reopen their economies, Frydenberg will say Australia can now reduce fiscal support.

“JobKeeper has been an economic lifeline to millions of Australians and that lifeline will be extended for those businesses that need it most,” Frydenberg will say, according to extracts of an announcement sent to Reuters.

The extracts sent do not reveal the size of the payments, adding only that it will be paid at a “lower level than is currently the case”, while eligibility will also be amended to ensure only those who need it the most receive it.

In addition to trimming its JobKeeper package, Frydenberg will on Tuesday also say Australia will cut its unemployment payments.

Australia in March said it would increase unemployment benefits by A$550 a fortnight until September 30.

Like with the wage subsidy, Frydenberg will say the welfare payments will be reduced but will remain higher than that paid before the coronavirus pandemic.

Full details of the package will be announced later on Tuesday.

The amended fiscal support comes as Australia is on course to report its first recession in nearly three decades and unemployment hits a 22-year high.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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